By Dr Sonia Sameen

Dr Ashar Afaq graduated from the Hamdard College of Medicine and Dentistry in 2004. Following graduation, he moved to London to study for a Master’s in Dental Public Health degree from the University of London.

After completing his graduate studies, Dr Afaq returned to Pakistan and has been working at the Dow University of Health Sciences ever since. He previously served duties as the Vice Principal of the Dow International Dental College and has now been promoted as the Registrar of the Dow University of Health Sciences, the first dentist to earn this honour. 

Dr Afaq has published numerous national and international articles and has presented his research work in various conferences globally. His areas of interest include community-based awareness outreach programs and children’s health and education. The Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh recently awarded him a faculty dental trainer membership. 

DN: Briefly take us through your journey from dental school to your current position.

Dr Ashar: I graduated from Hamdard University in 2004, after which I went to pursue my Masters in Dental Public Health from the Queen Mary University of London.

Hard work and learning never go to waste

I came back to Pakistan and had been working at the Dow University of Health Sciences since 2011. I served as the Vice Principal of the Dow International Dental College until recently, when I assumed the position of the Registrar of DUHS.

Aside from my involvement in academia, I am a private dental practitioner as well.

DN: What would you say are the key differences between dental education abroad and in Pakistan?

Dr Ashar: The basic knowledge provided in Pakistan is the same as anywhere else in the world. Whether in the UK, Europe, Malaysia, or elsewhere abroad, the subject matter is the same.

Use free online courses to increase your knowledge

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between them and us is that they follow the proper SOPs, and we do not, unfortunately. We must work to incorporate the same level of vigilance when it comes to following SOPs. Additionally, their focus leans towards evidence-based dentistry. 

We need to identify our issues, develop the appropriate treatment modalities for them, and modify our teaching methods according to them if we are to reach a similar level.

DN: How are you looking at the current pandemic situation and its impact on the dental community?

Dr Ashar: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on all sorts of industries globally, including dentistry. The dental community has suffered a considerable loss, financially, primarily owing to the reduced patient flow.

I believe that those who wish to benefit from online classes will take them seriously and use them to their advantage. Those who do not will find a way to complain

However, as we come to terms with the current reality that we live in, businesses are resuming work. Dental clinics, especially in first-world countries, have started operations under strict protocol. Clinics are operating here as well but are only taking emergency cases because of the coronavirus threat.

In Pakistan, the coronavirus has still not hit its peak. After we hit our peak in the country and the COVID case count starts to reduce, I hope that we will be able to resume our businesses on a full-time basis.

DN: What are your recommendations for dental practices during COVID-19?

Dr Ashar: Dental clinics must ensure that they follow the recommended SOPs because not doing so would put multiple lives at risk. Things will be different now because instead of a simple surgical mask, gloves, and protective eyewear, we will have to take personal protection to a higher level. 

We will also have to be more mindful of our supporting staff members, including dental assistants and receptionists, and ourselves as practitioners. 

Dental clinics must ensure that they follow the recommended SOPs because not doing so would put multiple lives at risk.

Proper disinfection and sterilization are critical to limit the spread of the virus. Instead of merely replacing instruments and changing our masks and gloves, we will have to make an effort to disinfect all surfaces in the clinical setting that may have been exposed. It will be a challenging task, but it is the need of the hour.

DN: What is your take on online classes and their continuity? Do you agree that virtual education can be a suitable substitute for dental education, which relies explicitly on hands-on experience?

Dr Ashar: Online classes are the need of the hour. Dentistry consists of two major branches of study, including basic dental sciences and clinical dental sciences.

Online education, at the moment, is working well for the theoretical portion of dental education. Unfortunately, the latter branch is suffering because we cannot provide clinical experience via virtual learning. Regardless, virtual education is currently playing a pivotal role during this pandemic to ensure the provision of quality education across the board. 

There are apparent cons associated with them, as well. The students are not taking them as seriously. There are issues regarding internet connectivity as well, especially for students who are not based in major cities; they are the ones who are suffering the most right now. 

I believe that those who wish to benefit from online classes will take them seriously and use them to their advantage. Those who do not will find a way to complain. I agree that the situation is far from ideal, but we have to make do with all that we have right now.  

Some of the most reputable universities in the world are offering various free online courses. Students, as well as teachers, should learn to use this time to take up extra learning courses to enhance their skills further. There are even courses on how to become better online teachers because online teaching is very different from conventional teaching.

Teachers should be well informed about how to operate different technologies and work on their presentation skills as well. Communicating with students virtually can be quite challenging. Seek help from the resources available online and at least try to acquire the baseline information to make online classes work. 

Overall, I feel like online classes are the best, and the only way we can make this work to our advantage considering the current situation. 

DN: You were recently appointed as a registrar; what significant changes and developments are you looking to initiate in your institute?

Dr Ashar: As the Registrar of the DUHS, I aim to digitalize operations in the institution. The goal is to go paperless because we live in a digital age, and it is essential to stay at the same pace as the rest of the world. Shifting operations online would help make them more efficient and more accessible to everyone.

I also aim to facilitate both our students and our teachers in the best way possible. My goal is to resolve any issue that our students and teachers may face in the future.

DN: Lastly, what is your message for young dentists?

Dr Ashar: We are currently facing these distressing times. Many young dental graduates are under immense stress at the moment concerning their jobs. Seasoned practitioners are also facing many issues in regards to their businesses. While the pressure is understandable, I would advise them to avail this time by being productive. 

I strongly suggest that students take up online courses being offered by universities from across the globe. Use these free courses to increase your knowledge. I would also advise them to revise their concepts from previous years because we tend to forget things with time, so this is an excellent opportunity. Aside from courses, young dentists should also consider investing their efforts into research work.

We do not know when things will get back to normal. We can only hope it is sooner rather than later. Therefore, it is best to accept the situation and make the most out of it. 

Hard work and learning never go to waste. Whatever piece of information you learn from anywhere will help you someday. The best part about learning is that no one can take it away from you. Aspire to learn more every day by utilizing the resources around you and become a better version of yourself.

July 3, 2020

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