In conjunction with the International Women’s Day—a global event celebrated on 8 March annually—MIMS Today’s editorial desk is proud to present seven profoundly inspiring stories for the entire month of March. Putting forward the notion that “women are healers,’ we bring to you our #HealsInHeels special feature—capturing a month of amazing, empowering stories—dedicated to our women in healthcare.

Our highlights of Part 2 are three leading women doctors who are carving their name in the surgical field. As they challenge the status quo, these remarkable women chose to be in a field most notable to be male-dominated. #BeBoldforChange, they are strong and brave—and they certainly dare to be different. First on the hot seat of our #DareTo series is Dr Farrah-Hani Imran, Consultant Plastic Surgeon.

Dr Farrah-Hani believes that ethics, principles & integrity are core concepts. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Dr Farrah-Hani believes that ethics, principles & integrity are core concepts. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

One on one with Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

Dr Farrah-Hani graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland (RCSI) in 2002 with the Association of Graduates Medal, where she also obtained her MRCS in 2005. She completed her MS (Plast Surg) from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in 2010 and is currently the Head of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, Burns Unit & Wound Care Team in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

Dr Farrah-Hani brought glory to Malaysia as a pioneer National Rhythmic Gymnast, blazing the trail for future generations by being the first Malaysian to reach World Championships. She was also the first Malaysian to earn the Constable Fellowship Award from the American Association of Plastics Surgeons, and to qualify for the EY Women Athletes Business Network Mentoring Program, by the IWF Leadership Foundation. She continues to serve the nation through pro-bono voluntary work as the Team Manager of the historic National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team at the 2017 SEA Games with a clean sweep of all gold and silver medals available and a National Transformation 2050 Youth Ambassador, under the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Dr Farrah recalled an episode where a senior doctor asked her during a multi-disciplinary meeting on what do ‘plastics’ people actually do?

“I would like to make a few clarifications on the terminology: Plastic surgery is the overall umbrella term encompassing various branches such as burns, clefts, wound care, reconstruction, aesthetics, hand, craniofacial and many more.

To be a good Cosmetic Surgeon, you must be a good Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon with a solid grounding in the principles of general surgery, to know how to deal with any eventuality.

“It is more than just nose jobs and tummy tucks. In public hospitals, we work closely with other teams. We manage life-threatening burns, reconstruct small to massive tissue defects, manage all types of wounds, repair cleft lips and cleft palates, contour bodies and so on,” replied Dr Farrah.

The duration of training is a minimum of 6 years after internship/housemanship. Then several months/years for gazettement.

The list of certified Plastic Surgeons can be found on the NSR website:
nsr.org.my

Dr Farrah-Hani founded the UKM Wound Care Team to standardise multi-disciplinary education.  Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Dr Farrah-Hani founded the UKM Wound Care Team to standardise multi-disciplinary education. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

1. Was it always your ambition to be in this specialty? Tell us your journey.
In school I had three broad ambitions; medicine, law and performing arts. As life progressed, it narrowed down to medicine and specifically vascular, cardiothoracic, plastic surgery or orthopaedics. Eventually I pursued Plastic Surgery because to me, it is a marriage of the science and arts, echoing my sports background in Rhythmic Gymnastics, a marriage of sports and arts. [Smiles]

2. Gender bias occurs in many disciplines of academia, including medicine. Could you describe your experience as a female surgeon?
There have been multiple events of gender bias that I faced over the years, and still do, both as a national athlete and as a surgeon.

There was one amusing instance when I was a general surgical trainee. We were performing a laparoscopic assessment on an advanced simulated training model. As the consultant trainer passed my station, he provided complimentary feedback on my surgical skills. The trainee beside who was struggling with his sutures said, “of course she can suture, she’s a woman, they all sew at home.” I thought he was joking, but he was serious. The consultant, who was a gentleman - not missing a beat - advised him to respect his fellow trainees and had some stern words about respecting women.

The principle is to shake it off, learn from the experience and move on.
In my mind, we are all equals, regardless of titles, gender, field of specialty or delusions of grandeur. [Smiles]

Dr Farrah-Hani with colleagues from the Department of Surgery, UKM.  Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Dr Farrah-Hani with colleagues from the Department of Surgery, UKM. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

3. Any specific challenges and obstacles that you had to overcome to get where you are right now?
It has been mostly dealing with pride and prejudice - without a Mr Darcy, unfortunately.

To some, I was an easy target; being a woman and former National Athlete. In one hospital, the bullying was jarring.

Currently, the only challenge is dealing with women-specific queries. Firstly, my husband and I are child-free by choice. Secondly, I love that am naturally curvier than my younger days. Yet caustic judgement of both are a weekly occurrence when I am in Malaysia.

All I can say is, we all have different paths. What is ideal for you, may not be ideal for others. In short, live and let live.
However, I am grateful to have these negative experiences as one is better positioned to teach and counsel future generations having experienced and managed bullying and toxic experiences first hand. This taught me the crucial responsibility of a leader in creating a positive and inclusive environment free of favouritism, sexism and racism.

4. As a healthcare professional—with the level of commitment and work load—how do you achieve a work-life balance?
Time management and prioritising ethics, principles & integrity.
I am blessed to be influenced by daily motivation of my late father, mother Sister Amy, brother Amar Imran who serves in the Ministry of Health, husband, handful of trusted confidants and personal mentors who all lead by example.

My current public position has 3 major multi-tasking roles of academic, administrative and clinical work. Although the workload is heavy, I am lucky to work in an environment with collegial camaraderie and priceless teamwork.

I volunteer my personal time to my National Sports family.

During my PhD, I make time to teach motivated students under MMII (Malaysian Medics International Ireland). I love teaching. While I am there, I try to be available for all their events centred on education and development.

It’s also important to nurture mental strength, so I learned to play the harp and designer couture skills. I am also a fully licensed POUND® Pro Instructor for POUND® Rockout Workout.

Team Manager of the Malaysian National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Team Manager of the Malaysian National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

5. How would you describe the involvement of women in our healthcare scene?
We stand on the shoulders of giants.

The mother of Malaysian surgery is widely regarded to be Professor Freda Meah. She and her generation of colleagues trained generations of surgeons locally and globally. We have progressed as a medical fraternity and as a nation, regardless of gender, by working together with mutual respect and placing the people first.

There has been a steady evolution, but it is still a work in progress. The future outlook for women in healthcare is positive. If we are cohesive and proactive, it will be what we make it to be.

For example, there is a good number of women plastic surgeons in the Malaysian Society of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeons (MSPRS), echoing other medical professional bodies.

6. As one of the leading women in healthcare, what would you like to say to fellow women HCPs out there?
We don’t have to put others down to make ourselves look good.
Pick your battles, not everything is worth your time.
At work, dress professionally, be stylish, wear practical footwear and always place patient welfare first.
We must work with, and not against our colleagues.
Let’s support each other and let our hard work speak for itself.

As a surgeon, Dr Farrah said her happiest moments are whenever a patient and family express their happiness with her team, such as cleft parents joyously saying they can’t see a scar, aesthetic patients satisfied with outcome and when severe burn victims survive and live a fuller than full life.

Hands-on teaching of Surgical Skills to medical students and surgical trainees, with colleague Professor Hanafiah, in the Advanced Surgical Skills Centre, UKM.  Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Hands-on teaching of Surgical Skills to medical students and surgical trainees, with colleague Professor Hanafiah, in the Advanced Surgical Skills Centre, UKM. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

Mental strength with national gymnast, Amy Kwan.  Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran
Mental strength with national gymnast, Amy Kwan. Photo credit: Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

As a lecturer, it is when students make an effort to say thank you after passing their finals. “I was recently humbled when a young lady came up and said she had watched me as a National Gymnast, then saw me around the hospital as a junior doctor, read my notes in charts, heard me teach in tutorials and had been inspired to emulate the surgical path because she wanted to be like me. I have given similar grateful sentiments to my mentors, so it was one of those full circle life moments,” remarked Dr Farrah.

When asked about her future plans, Dr Farrah endeavours to set up a National Burns Association and National Burns Registry; and a National Cleft Association and National Cleft Registry so that this would create a national centralised database for optimal patient care, professional education and research. Specifically, for plastic surgery in Malaysia, she hopes for regulation with enforcement of ethical aesthetic practice and a unified Malaysian plastic surgical professional organisation.

Upon returning from her PhD, as part of her legacy, Dr Farrah aims to increase awareness on mental health, body image and self-esteem in her professional and personal capacity; and continue training future consultant surgeons under her care to eventually assume leadership responsibilities. MIMS

“The future outlook for women in healthcare is positive. If we are cohesive and proactive, it will be what we make it to be.” – Dr Farrah-Hani Imran

Make sure to check back here for more inspiring stories of our #WOW leading women in healthcare and women who #DareTo challenge the status quo. Receive the latest updates when you sign up for a free MIMS account!!

#HealsInHeels: Celebrating women in healthcare
#BeBoldforChange: Women who #dareto be different — Dr April Camilla Roslani
He Says, She Says: Gender equality in healthcare careers

Sources:
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8127-0309
https://ukm.pure.elsevier.com/en/persons/farrah-hani-imran
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/lets-talk-about-mental-health-says-tn50-ambassador