Interview: Only personal accountability can lead to success
Professor Dr Khalid Almas graduated from de Montmorency College of Dentistry, University of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. He then moved to the UK, for Master in Periodontology and later Master in Dental Public Health from Eastman Institute of Dental Sciences and the London Hospital Medical College/University College, University of London. He earned a Fellowship in Dental Surgery from Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgery and later a Fellowship in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Later on, he earned a fellowship of the American Academy of Oral Medicine. He is also a fellow of the International College of Dentists. He served as Head of Department of Periodontology and Oral Medicine, and Assistant Professor at de Montmorency College of Dentistry, Lahore, then as an Assistant Professor at King Saud University, Saudi Arabia. He served as an Associate Professor at New York University from 2003 -2007 and then moved to University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. He was promoted to full professor rank in 2011 and served as a Clinical Professor, Director predoctoral periodontics program and Director International Fellowship in Advanced Periodontics. Currently, Dr Almas is serving as Professor of Periodontology and Graduate Periodontics Program Director, at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University. He also maintains his visiting/volunteer professor position at the University of Connecticut, USA and Rawal Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, Pakistan. His editorial and Ad hoc reviewer services extended to more than 15 biomedical and dental journals. He has also served as International Examiner in top universities of Malaysia, Sweden and Sudan. He has written more than 230 papers in peer reviewed dental and Medical journals, along with two books and many chapters written for books published in different countries. His exceptional record has made his name listed among world’s top 2% scientist. A list that has been compiled by Ioannidis et al from Stanford University who analysed thousands of articles on the Scopus database until May 2020. The inclusion of Dr Khalid name in the list is a true testimony of his hard work and dedication in the field of Dentistry and Research. Dental Tribune Pakistan recently spoke to Dr Khalid about his efforts toward the positive representation of Pakistan on global and national dental platforms and about his contribution to the dental profession and research.
Dental Tribune Pakistan: You have been recently listed among the world's top 2% scientists in the world. What was your reaction?
Dr Khalid Almas: First of all, my instant reaction was to say Alhamdulillah. I was sitting at my office, and one of my colleagues, whose high profile researcher at our workplace, congratulated me. I asked him what happened. And he told me that your name is listed among the world’s top scientists and asked him what about you? And he said to me that he was searching for his name in the list when he came across mine. So I instantly thanked Allah, who has been gracious; this is all due to His kindness and mercy. And the well-wishers' prayers and parents' prayers, family, wife, and of course, my patients, students all over the world that I have met in the past 30 years of my life. So I have a brief recollection of these things, and then I came back to my reality, and it took me about 30 seconds, and I said Alhamdulillah. And that was my response! After a while, when the news spread, I started receiving messages from my friends and everyone else.
When I informed my children, they didn’t seem surprised because they suffered during my career.
The reason because it was, to some extent, the cost of family time. And I remember that when my son was three years old, and my elder daughter was peeping at my door, but I ignored them and kept preparing my presentation and proposals. My wife said that you know, don’t be so rude and give time to children. I said we are investing in ourselves and the future of the family. All this hardship was reciprocated with the family's smiles, and Alhamdulillah it paid off in the end.
"Don’t fall into the trap of money. Make yourself so much value that money itself will follow you. Throughout my career, I worked on this approach. Alhamdulillah, I am comfortable"
Dental Tribune Pakistan: How your interest in the field of research developed?
Dr Khalid Almas: I think I am not a very social person, but still, I met some excellent friends in my life. I have always tried to ignore the shortcomings of others and wanted to share positivity. That, of course, created efficient teamwork. I have worked with people from many different backgrounds and countries. And these days, you know, I am working in some areas that I haven’t worked on before. Like in the animal research and molecular type of research, I am not a scientist. I was trained as a clinician, and later on, I found that I am a full-time faculty. Since I had invested some time in clinical dentistry, I thought I should probably invest more time in innovative thinking. And because I was also the Journal editor at the students Union during my dental college days so, at that time, I also had the habit of reading and writing. You know my father trained me as a researcher, and it was surprising that he had his library. He gave me some question and would say that these are the books and find out the answer. Sometimes, it will take me a day or at times a week to find the answer to the question. It was more of an open book exam. Later on, I realised that it was my research training. The questions were usually on the topic of politics, history and religion, and poetry. So I think I had the opportunity to have my initial days of training taught by the parents, good friends, and well-wishers. And I also think it’s the conducive environment that we work in. So wherever I worked, I tried to be honest about the place of my work. So my mentor told me that think globally, but locally. And I think I worked on that.
"Science is shifting sand, and every day we are getting new information so which one to believe. The professionals' role is to sieve through all of that information, develop guidelines and evaluate whenever new pieces of information are found and implemented accordingly. I think we lack that component"
So no matter wherever I travel, I try to live in the moment. I was not much futuristic, and I was not much into the past. So I always said that what is in front of us all the challenges we tried to sort it out. And sometimes, I met difficult people in my career like many others the hardships. I wanted to neglect them, ignore them. I found my way to leave them behind. I tried to grow myself under the enormous trees for some time in the past, which was a failure. So I wanted to develop myself as an independent individual like a little plant on my own. And all these things I think have contributed. I am very fond of going to conferences, travelling and that happened a lot. You get the ideas, you collaborate, you teamwork and develop them, and that’s how you proceed.
Dental Tribune Pakistan: What are the biggest challenges that the field of research is facing in Pakistan?
Dr Khalid Almas: I think your question is very valid. The challenges are plenty, and I know it for a fact. I have always taken the challenge as an opportunity.
Coming back to challenges, during my time in Pakistan, I was doing clinics and teaching simultaneously, and of course, after doing it for a year, I soon realised that I am not doing justice to both of these things. And most of my fellows and colleagues had the same routine; teaching and then doing clinics. And I don’t blame them because due to hardships and financial reasons, one is bound to continue.
Another thing is that there is a typical mindset. Of course, people's clinical perspective is there, and we have to be clinically competent. But later on, I found that you know that habit of reading every day. I read something before I go to bed. That is still my habit. My children say, why are you wasting your time reading, and I said I am trying to nourish my mind. If I don’t read, my mind will be starved during the night before I go to sleep.
Every day you learn something, and now you know, random information and the bombardment of it during this internet. So I think it isn't easy, but my initial training in research and reading habits helped. So as I have said, many people's part-time academic career in Pakistan and students and faculty's practice and all things.
The primary focus of everyone is to master the training of clinical skills to be good with their patients. But when patients get treated, they go back home, they forget about you.
The institution and regulatory body's role and, of course, the individual, we are having a missing connection between them to promote research culture. There is no time to read and write because in Pakistan everybody is so busy. So I think there should be a part-time faculty, and there should be a full faculty of teachers dedicated and committed to the cause. And the other thing is that we also lack the national mission and vision of professional development and advancement because resolving such issues are a political decision in any country. And for anything to achieve, we need finances. In my recent research, we came across that only 2% population is generating 98% of the science, and 98% of the world population are the consumers of that science.
Another factor is think is lack of industry partnerships and also within institutions. They should be accountable and check that researchers are publishing research that is credible and ensure that. This is why international acceptance of the journals is not very high, unfortunately from the developing countries. Accountability and transparency is another issue. At any workplace, we have been working in a structured environment where every time, every day, every month, we are being monitored. There should be personal accountability and personal transparency. When we go to bed at the end of the day, we should realise that we haven’t done anything wrong. Once we have this type of feeling, we can satisfy, and Allah will also help us.
Dental Tribune Pakistan: Do you think there's a lack of a research curriculum at the undergrad level, your comment?
Dr Khalid Almas: There is a lack of a culture of research in academia. We have a lot of uninitiated and very few initiated clinician-scientist in Pakistan. I am not trying to offend anyone, but I am just telling you the reality. I remember in a program and asked those Post Graduates (PGs) attendees which journal they read last time, and no answered. Which journal did they go through last year? No answer. Have they read anything today? No answer. The PGs were even unaware of their speciality journals. So that was the situation with the pgs. So I asked the supervisors who were sitting there and said, ‘Yeh ziada time nai lagate’ (They don’t spend much time). So I told him that it’s your role; of course, time is not to blame. All of us do not have enough time wherever we are. So we should complain less and work more.
The other thing is the lack of a conducive environment. In many universities, faculties would like to spend time on the tea party but no in scientific discussions. It’s a pity. But unfortunately, this type of behaviour is very prevalent.
Due to a lack of research and supervision training, our output at the national level is not accepted at the international forum. The interest should be inculcated at the grass-root level. Undergraduate students should have it in their curriculum. Students are not graduated in many countries until they don’t produce a piece of research, regardless of how small it is. I also feel that people look down on the epidemiological data and analyses. If you see the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, you will notice that epidemiological data's contribution is very few. So I think we have to generate our data, we have to train our people.
I also feel that students should be connected with the international dental students’ association and be exposed to student exchange programs to have early exposure to research culture in other parts of the world.
Dental Tribune Pakistan: Recommendations for Pakistani dentists during COVID-19?
Dr Khalid Almas: We cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We are ultimately living in a global village. So, in that situation, I think the role of the local regulatory bodies becomes essential. Especially the bodies working in-country need to have a consensus, and we can see that mutual efforts have been made to make it happen.
"People don’t remember their forefathers' names; how can they expect to keep in mind their doctor's name? So in that situation, we have to invest in the coming generation and what we leave behind in the public domain and future generations"
Department of Health and regulatory bodies like the Pakistan Dental Association, Pakistan Medical Commission should also see. But it’s a pity that quackery issues are still not resolved, so we can’t expect much from them as infection control is still a problem. Above all, the general population's compliance needs to be ensured by spreading the message through TV shows and awareness programs. By having said all this, I believe that there should be enforced, and if you saw in many of the countries those who have higher fatalities, there was a defiance of the population. I can give you an example of China, where they controlled it very well compared to Western Democratic Countries. Such countries are suffering because of stubbornness. All these factors play a significant role, and Pakistan stands somewhere in between as a nation. We are still sitting on the fence where half of the population follows COVID Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and half are not. Then there are conspiracy theories circulating, which are further confusing more than 98% of the population.
Dental Tribune Pakistan: Any last messages for young dental students?
Dr Khalid Almas: I will tell them to be honest to themselves and their parents and family for the students. Respect your teachers, respect your parents. If we see in the recent past in Pakistan, the young doctors’ associations have been labelled as mulligans, you know. Their behaviour is not termed as professionals. So, whatever the reason for their actions and many other organisations, I think they should remain professional. They should not lose their professional integrity in the eyes of the general masses. They should never stop learning and should keep on learning every day. Read, Observe, and Assist, and then do it—a Continuous Professional Development for the faculty and the teachers. Once one achieves academic rank such as that of Professor etc. is not part of lifetime achievement. They should be evaluated and monitored and regulated. The promotion based on a scientific contribution only should not be appreciated. It has to be seen as how much professional development is added every time. Students should also set their priorities and goals, both on a long term and short term basis.
Those faculty members in the publication board convey my message that they should publish and perish. Young faculty should not focus only on the promotion of their publications. They should go for quality. They should try to promote Pakistani journals as well. People should avoid self-citations, as well. It’s a disease and needs to be treated soon. Avoid quick pay and quickly publish journals. Plan your projects and collab with the others. Do not stress yourself on the sequence of the authorship; ghost authorship is another issue. I can say that we need to work on science and use time efficiently. Please don’t waste time on shows like Ertugral though it’s a good show indeed. Include others that are lesser fortunate and bring them forward as well. Gratitude can go a long way! I am praying that may Allah bless my readers with success in their endeavours, and that they are not included in 2% of scientists, but 1% of scientists in the world.