He can wield a dental drill and scalpel just as well as he handles a SAR 21. Meet SV1 Intekhab, a volunteer trainer helping SAF dental officers take their skills to the next level.
He's an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who's a highly regarded and beloved Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore's (NUS's) Faculty of Dentistry.
Now, this Medical Trainer (Dentist) in the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC) is using his knowledge and skills to mentor dental officers in the military.
A calling to teach
SAFVC Volunteer (SV) 1 Intekhab Islam, 48, had always been interested in the military. As a student, he had tried to apply to the Armed Forces Medical College in India, where he was born.
"Growing up, I always thought the soldiers looked so smart and inspiring with all their decorations," he said.
After moving to Singapore in 2002 to further his studies, he found a new calling – teaching. He began lecturing in NUS in 2008.
"I love teaching. The best part is interacting with young minds. The universities are also where nation-building starts, so it's up to us as teachers to guide them towards becoming the best versions of themselves. I find it as challenging as it is rewarding to help them grow and develop."
He is also a senior consultant at the National University Hospital and continues to see patients.
A chance to give back
SV1 Intekhab became a Singapore citizen in 2010. Five years later, the SAFVC was formed, and the Dean of NUS asked if he would be interested to join and contribute.
Ever the military enthusiast, he wanted to jump at the chance. He also hoped it would help him understand National Service (NS) better:
"A lot of my patients served NS, and I couldn't relate when they talked about it. So I wanted to experience it first-hand. I also believed it would give me a greater sense of belonging and help me integrate better."
However, as he was in the midst of his PhD (Doctor of Philsophy), he had to put his plans on hold. In 2019, he successfully enlisted in the SAFVC and became a Medical Trainer (Dentist).
Asked why he didn't choose the more typical military vocations, he explained that it was important that SVs contribute their skills to best meet the SAF's operational needs.
"At the interview, my interviewer pointed out that because I have a specific expertise, I can bring more value as a trainer. The SAFVC is here for the SAF and it's about giving back with the expertise we bring. In fact, right now, I'm one of just two SV dental trainers!"
Taking competencies to another level
Since becoming an SV, SV1 Intek has been working to grow the competencies of the SAF's dental officers. Last year, he helped to formalise a system to train and assess new dental officers on their surgical skills.
New dental officers would first watch and assist their seniors in dental procedures before performing them while under supervision.
They would then perform two procedures of varying complexities on their own while a panel of seniors watched and assessed. Once they passed, they would be certified to perform the procedures independently.
Going above and beyond
SV1 Intekhab's commitment to the SAFVC and his dental officer trainees is undeniable – for his deployment last year, he came in every Friday for seven months to assess the dental officers, as well as to hold lectures and workshops!
SAF dental officer Captain (CPT) (Dr) Claudia Ng has known SV1 Intekhab since her undergraduate days in NUS, and can attest to his dedication. (Fun fact: CPT Ng was an SAFVC volunteer, before she signed on with the SAF in 2016)
Said the 26-year-old: "The students in dental school all know Dr Intek as the approachable one. His lessons are always very fun. He makes sure you really understand the concepts before moving on, and he's always very willing to explain if you have any questions.
"He goes above and beyond, and that's what makes him special."
She's also happy to be able to work alongside her mentor: "Whenever I meet him in camp, I'll find the opportunity to ask and learn more, at a higher level than in dental school."
And SV1 Intekhab continues to be generous with sharing his knowledge: "As an SV trainer, I cannot see patients, but I'll watch her procedures and offer tips, and we can discuss further after. Sometimes even I learn from watching what she does."
A greater sense of belonging
After being in the SAFVC for four years, SV1 Intekhab is happy that he is now able to relate to the national servicemen around him: "The servicemen I meet, like my patients, are very amazed to hear we are volunteers. They have a lot of respect for SVs for taking the time to do what we do.
He hopes to spread the message and encourage more people to join: "Actually, two of my friends' wives applied to join the SAFVC after hearing about it from me! My daughter is 15, and I've also been telling her she should join!
"It's interesting to see people from various walks of life, some of them very high-flying individuals, take the time to volunteer. I've made very good friends. It's an interesting community and I'm very glad to be a part of this."