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It’s not easy, but totally worth it

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Let’s shift the spotlight to focus the often unseen rewards of mentoring the future dentists. Photo by Atikah Akhtar - Unsplash

By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lim Ghee Seong

My life as an active academician began when I joined the teaching fraternity of the university in 2012. Having been in this profession for the past one decade, I often encounter people who are curious to know about my occupation. As much as possible, I always try to avoid complex explanation about my job nature. Instead, I make it simple by explaining to them in layman’s term that I am teaching or training the future dentists. However, upon deeper reflection, I wonder if my over-simplified response to the people does justice to my teaching fraternity as it may not accurately describe my job scope.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lim Ghee Seong

Dental academicians are defined as individuals who work in the field of dentistry as educators, clinical instructors, clinical supervisors, researchers, and clinicians. They are responsible for educating and training the dental students, conducting research to look for new evidence, or further verify the clinical methods by upholding evidence-based dentistry, and providing quality dental care to patients and protecting their best interests. Like any other profession, being a dental academician can be stressful due to various factors such as heavy workload, job demands, pressure to publish research in reputed journals; managing three-way interactions involving students, technicians and patients; and, endless administrative tasks.

The following are some of the common sources of stress that have been identified to be prevalent among the dental academicians:

· Constant act of trying to balance teaching, research, and clinical responsibilities

· Relentless pursuit in trying to meet academic and professional expectations which are assessed in key performance indicator (KPI), which can be unrealistic in some cases

· Striving to keep up to deadlines that are set for almost every piece of work

· High and heavy workload in addition to the unseen long work hours, which include bringing unfinished paper work back home with endless online meetings even on weekends

· Coping with all kinds of challenging behaviour and attitude from students and finding ways to fulfil the patient needs with their high expectations

· The constant need to update themselves by keeping abreast of the advances in technology and techniques that are used in clinical practices

· Endless administrative tasks such as grant applications, management of students’ affairs, planning sound budgets, and organising various meetings

· There is an incessant inner struggle between their personal lives and professional lives whereby striking the right balance becomes an arduous task.

It is quite worrying to note that in spite of all these extreme challenges and demands, many dental academicians carry on with their lives without making the necessary adjustments to their lifestyles. In my view, they need to learn to manage their stress accordingly in order to ensure a better quality of life like in the other professions. In this regard, it is recommended that the dental academicians engage themselves in activities such as regular exercise (a good sweating session might be the best stress reliever), meditation to achieve mindfulness and relaxation, engaging in hobbies (such as gardening, collecting the collectibles, etc), and seeking support from colleagues, family, and friends. When the workload is deemed overwhelming, they may also prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and practise time management skills not only to reduce work-related stress, but also to work more efficiently and be more productive.

In closing, as I reflect on these challenges, I’m also reminded of the profound rewards that accompany these trials. There’s a unique joy in witnessing the transformation of eager learners into the confident faces of our future dentists. It’s a privilege beyond measure.

My sincere hope is that these challenges won’t dissuade aspiring individuals from embracing the noble path of dental education. While dentistry may often be perceived solely for its financial promise, there’s an intrinsic satisfaction in shaping the next generation of dental professionals. The true richness lies in nurturing and guiding these budding talents toward a future of impactful oral healthcare.

Let’s shift the spotlight to focus the often unseen rewards of mentoring the future dentists. Beyond the material attraction, let’s champion the immeasurable fulfilment derived from instilling knowledge and expertise. By showcasing these aspects, we can inspire passionate individuals to consider the immense joy found in shaping the future of dentistry through education.

Together, let’s celebrate the invaluable role of dental academicians and ignite a passion for education that propels dentistry forward into a brighter, more fulfilling future.

……

The author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at g.s.lim@um.edu.my

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