This week, I learned about the passing of one of my great mentors from Pittsburgh. My mentor, Dr. Hussein Zaki, passed away this month. I have been feeling quite sad. And I couldn’t help but to reflect on our time together. He had played a such big part in my professional development during my time as a prosthodontic resident.
I still remembered when I first met him in Pittsburgh. He looked at me funny and asked me what was I doing there in Pittsburgh? I wasn’t sure why he asked. But I guessed he must have thought that I didn’t quite belong there. Up until then, the program never had a Canadian applying to the program. He may have wondered why I would move away from my family and friends to an unknown city to study prosthodontics. I honestly didn’t know what kind of answer he was looking for…but I boldly told him that I was there to study Prosthodontics!
At the time, in the Graduate Prosthodontics program, he was responsible for teaching the residents dental materials and maxillofacial prosthodontics. Over the next three years, I learned so much from Dr. Zaki like no other. He always gave the residents very inspiring lectures with the perfect mixture of didactic, clinical, and laboratory materials. He taught us, not from a textbook, but from his years of real life clinical experience taking out the irrelevant, and putting in the critical knowledge at the right time so we can appreciate why we needed to understand certain concepts in dental materials and how to apply those concepts in our everyday laboratory and clinical work.
He was always the one who would roll up his sleeves and showed me everything starting with some basic laboratory work such as pouring up impressions, mounting models and polishing dentures. During the clinical sessions, I remembered watching him skillfully trim the provisional crowns and bridges to perfection. I remembered watching his fingers moved magically and obtained a perfectly border moulded custom tray. And I remembered watching how he would gently paint the custom tray with molten impression wax and somehow created a beautiful impression of the denture bearing areas. I could go on and on about his exceptional clinical and laboratory skills. He taught me so many unique tricks and techniques that to this day I am still using them and passing them onto my students. It was also not unusual for him to stay after clinical hours just so to show me everything so the case can proceed properly.
When he was teaching, he was always so calming and inspiring. He shared his belief with me that dentistry should be a form of apprenticeship where people have to be shown first before they can start doing it themselves. He also told me that, as an educator, you want to make the students believe they can do more then they can, and eventually they will achieve more than they ever thought they can. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of my dental training with Dr. Zaki.
Even now as an educator and a practitioner, I believe my style of teaching and practice was heavily influenced by him. I often find myself explaining similar concepts to my students the same way he had explained to me. You will see me border moulding without a hot water bath but with a slab of Vaseline by my side. You will hear me telling my assistants to apply adhesives only on the custom tray but not on the borders where compound stick is. So many things I am doing, my habits, my preferences came from working with and learning from Dr. Zaki.
In my world of Prosthodontics, I just lost a great mentor. But I am forever grateful to have met him, to have learned from him and to be inspired by him. May his soul rest in peace but his memory shall stay with me forever.