Empowering community responsibility, being seen by the public, and informing oral health strategies: These ideas only scratch the surface of how Dr Mas Suryalis hopes to raise the profile of her association and improve oral health outcomes for all Malaysians. Dental Asia speaks with the president of the Malaysian Dental Association (MDA) on the changes she is driving both in and outside the MDA.
Reflecting on the milestones and influential moments in her career, Dr Suryalis described herself as “driven”.
“I like to challenge myself and take on responsibilities that other people may be afraid of. Whenever I am given a task, I will challenge myself to do it in the best way that I can,” she said.
However, she was quick to point out that it is not always smooth sailing. “I like to try many things and that is why I do a lot of things. But it does not mean that I excel in everything I do. I learn from my mistakes and failures, and I believe these experiences shape me into the person that I am today,” she added.
This tenacious mindset proves to be a familiar theme in her career. After graduating with a BDS from the University of Malaya, Malaysia, in 2006, Dr Suryalis worked under the Ministry of Health before joining academia and subsequently undertaking her specialist training in special care dentistry in Australia. She underwent training in various hospitals and healthcare institutions and graduated with Doctor of Clinical Dentistry and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Melbourne in 2016.
In her latest appointment as MDA president since June 2023, Dr Suryalis was once again banking on the lessons and character developed and gleaned throughout her career to help better oral health outcomes in Malaysia and raise the profile of the MDA.
The new initiatives she drove to implement included goals such as increasing membership rates, encouraging community programmes, promoting oral health equity, and informing policies with government stakeholders.
“It is not an easy process because you are exposed to different challenges. You have to work with so many different people and are in situations where you have to work fast and troubleshoot. All these are learning experiences and has helped me to become a good person and leader,” she said.
A major facet of Dr Suryalis’s vision for the MDA centres around increasing its public visibility.
“People are not aware of our roles because we shy away from the media. We have done a lot for the dental fraternity, but our publicity and promotion are still not as strong,” she said.
Recognising the importance of public relations, a social media and public health committee were set up to develop a relationship with the public and leverage on MDA’s experts to weigh in on current affairs. “If there are any controversial issues or new policies, we would like to be at the forefront to provide our opinion UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT bureau to seek assistance or advice and voice our concerns. We are still establishing that because we need to look for suitable people to be in that committee,” she added.
The increased media presence is also targeted at other dental professionals in Malaysia to raise awareness of the function of MDA itself. With over 4,000 registered members of the 13,000 dentist population, the MDA is the largest dental association in Malaysia. Still, Dr Suryalis hopes to see more dentists register with MDA. Working with various specialist associations to partner with MDA as affiliates, Dr Suryalis sees the benefits of collaboration to amplify the voice of the dentist in the society.
“We would like to be the umbrella body to all the other dental associations, including the specialist. If there are any causes or issues to raise, we have a stronger voice,” said Dr Suryalis.
MDA IN MALAYSIA
Looking outwards to the MDA’s involvement in the wider society, Representatives of the MDA meeting with the principal director of Oral Health in Malaysia to discuss collaborative opportunities Dr Suryalis hopes to develop closer partnerships with its government partners as well as the FDI World Dental Federation (FDI).
Dr Suryalis shared that MDA has been very active in providing its reviews, ideas and suggestions at international conferences and exhibitions. During the FDI convention in Sydney during September 2023, the MDA was involved with the reviewing of policy statements.
“This year we discussed about many issues including sugar consumption, alcohol intake, antenatal programmes, and smoking cessation. We gave our opinions which were considered in the improvement of the policy statements,” she said. The hope of being an active member in such international oral health organisations is to disseminate these policy statements among MDA members for dental practitioners in Malaysia to adopt.