Professor Frederick Smales


Professor Frederick Smales


Can you tell us your role now in IMU?

Firstly thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed. I hope the members of your society find something interesting in my answers to your questions.  
After being a Dental Dean in three different countries I retired in Malaysia four years ago. Then Professor Toh Chooi Gait invited me to take up a part time post at IMU Malaysia. Here I teach and research like a regular lecturer but have the title of Professor. I teach (usually as a member of a team) in the areas of oral physiology, cariology and dental materials science. Also I have a research grant to study ageing as reflected in salivary glands and other orally- related soft tissues.  

What is your impression of IMU, School of Dentistry, in terms of its development and academic excellence?

For a relatively new School of Dentistry in a private university where the principal source of income is student fees, the development of the IMU BDS programme has been quite remarkable. That has happened because of the dynamic Dean and her senior colleagues. Emphasis is laid on teaching and learning excellence. International visitors come here frequently as part of the IMU system and agree with me that teaching standards are top rank. 

Eventually, IMU may want to play the University League table game. That means giving serious attention to research. The Dental School can play an important part in that effort.

You have been in Malaysia since the establishment of the Faculty of Dentistry, AIMST University in 2004. What attracts you to come over and stay in Malaysia?

Yes, twelve years in Malaysia now, and as a resident under MM2H scheme I hope to be here for many enjoyable and fruitful years. So I am showing this country a great commitment.   

For me that is because Malaysia is specially favoured in terms of its friendly people of all backgrounds, its climate and amenities, and the varied lifestyles with food as a high point.  

So what more can I say except to note that thousands of Europeans agree with me each year. They fly on 14 hour journeys and spend considerable sums for a few days holiday here in your paradise of a country. I get to have that all the year round.

You are part of the Peer Review Project of SEAADE. How do you see the quality of dental education here in Malaysia comparing us with some of the best dental schools in the world?

Yes, I am the lead rapporteur of the Peer Review Scheme of the South East Asian Association for Dental Education which is usually called by its initials SEADDE for short. SEADDE is a very important organisation and Malaysians play leading roles in it. One example is that the Chairman of the SEADDE Peer Review Project is our own Professor Toh Chooi Gait. She has put the Visit Reports of Dental Schools in different SE Asian countries going back to 2004 on the SEADDE website where you can read them.  
However, SEADDE mainly addresses the South East Asia region so it is not really a good basis for making valid international comparisons of excellence. To do that, you need to bring in other regions. North America and Europe are the obvious examples as they have some very good schools of dentistry.

Then you can make quantitative comparisons and decide how things stack up. You have to include research and postgraduate education as well as undergraduate education. After that intangible factors which contribute to long-term reputation become involved. Some Europeans and American institutions have been building their reputations for many years. Now Asian dental schools like those in Hong Kong and Singapore are getting in on the act but Malaysian schools still have a distance to go in that regard.  


How will you encourage students to be involved in research activities?

There is a formal requirement for students to do a research project in Malaysian BDS curriculum guidelines. That seems to me to be quite sufficient to introduce students to research and only needs monitoring during Dental Council visits to make sure it is carried out properly in each Malaysian dental school.  

Here at IMU, I find the resulting student projects are quite impressive and when I assess I usually can give high marks to the student’s written research reports. There are rarely if ever border lines marks. And the standard is rising each year. So against that background, I think that no additional encouragement for dental students to do more research is needed at present.  

Before we move on to another question, however, I would add that all BDS students should know that the most highly regarded specialist training programmes require a research project to be completed. So students should take their undergraduate research training very seriously as it will give them good prior experience of that component of dental specialist training.

One day, if there is an oversaturation of dentists in Malaysia, do you have any suggestions to solve this problem?

The problem has already been widely anticipated and discussed during all the time I have been in Malaysia so I believe market and other forces will head it off before it happens.  

But to ensure the correction process goes smoothly, there should be clear, well-informed and well- enforced guidelines for those who are allowed to enter and complete BDS training. Care has to be taken to ensure that unsuitable people do not manage to get to become dentists whilst expansion of dental education places is taking place.   

There are three major stakeholder groups who have an interest here, the public, the profession and the government. The guidelines for selection and examination of those who want to dentists should be developed cooperatively by representatives of all those three groups.  
For my part, firstly I would maintain a high academic standard for entry, (already happening) which is essential for assimilation of the extensive knowledge needed in our profession. Secondly, I would want crucial marks gained in-course for evidence of caring attitudes to patients, with External Examiners specifically involved in the award of that component.

Prof. Smales, can you give some general advice to the dental students?

Well, it’s a long time since I was a dental student, (I went to University with a guy who was in the same class as the John Lennon of Beatles pop group back in the 60s and 70s) so I am not sure I can really give advice from your viewpoint now in the year 2016. To try, perhaps I should say the important word is ‘balance’. As a profession, we are quite unusual in the extent to which we call the shots in the way we live, work and take our leisure. So each individual dentist has to make a personal choices how to spend their time. The danger could be that by spending too much time on their dental practice they might neglect family, etc. or vice versa. Also dentists need to take time to relax as it can be stressful work. To help in doing all that it could be recommended that taking a course in time management would be useful before beginning dental practice.  

Recently, HKU has been ranked as the best dental school by the QS World Ranking 2016. Based on your experience over there, what is the secret behind their success? And what can the Malaysia Dental Schools learn from HKU’s success?

So its congratulations to everyone at the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Hong Kong for showing the world that the best dentistry, dental research and dental education is here in Asia. They have made us all very proud in this region.  

My observation is the HKU Faculty of Dentistry have one or two key strategies that get them the unique recognition. Just as IMU teaches students ‘deep’ learning, at the HKU FD all the staff try to conduct what can be called ‘deep’ research. That means they research just a limited number of significant areas highly relevant to the progress of dental practice across the world. They do that research to the highest standards, and everyone from the most junior to the most senior staff know they have to facilitate that research and in particular move any obstacles to getting it done out the way as quickly as possible.  

Second although the effort is driven by clever and focused Hong Kong originating staff, they do employ many international staff from countries where the dental institutions get high league table ratings. That mostly means from northern Europe and the United Kingdom. With regard to Malaysian dental institutions, I am sure one or two of them can also get very high in the wold rankings in a few years’ time if they adopt the right strategies and focus on getting success.  

And on that positive note, once again, thank you for inviting me to be interviewed.