LIFELONG LEARNING: AN ACADEMIC AT THE SOUL

ALWAYS focused and unwavering in his passion to pursue a career in clinical medicine, Vice Chancellor and Director General of the International Medical University (IMU), Professor Abdul Aziz Baba, has come a long way from a compassionate young physician to position he now holds in Malaysia’s First Private University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Growing up in the early years of Independence, he was raised with the idea of ​​being of service to others where he quickly discovered that his personal values ​​matched his scientific interests, setting him on a path filled with opportunity. unforeseen.

He began his clinical career in the 1980s as a doctor in Penang, where his interest in the specialization – now a qualified haematologist and oncologist – took root after losing his cousin to leukemia.

With this experience throughout his training, Professor Aziz finally accepted a position at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) at its new campus in Kubang Keriang, Kelantan.

“Before that, all public universities were located in urban centers and the location of this campus raised some eyebrows.

“However, looking back, I think it was a good experience for me to serve in an underserved community that previously had very few medical services,” he said.

As one of the pioneers on campus, Professor Aziz has found himself very busy, helping to develop the curriculum for undergraduates and then postgraduates, in addition to seeing patients.

His specialist training also makes him the ideal person for setting up oncology and hematology departments and services, as well as stem cell transplant services for patients requiring a transplant.

“I had not planned or anticipated that I could become an academician, but I can say that I found the experience very enriching.

“It has been enriching and rewarding to train future doctors,” he said.

After twenty years at USM and armed with a solidly established career as well as a professional reputation, it was time for him to retire were it not for a call from IMU, where he had already been as a guest speaker.

“What drew me to IMU was the relentless pursuit of excellence I saw in (IMU co-founder) Dr Mei Ling Young and (then President) Tan Sri Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman, and their values.

“In fact, I felt that Dr. Young embodied IMU in many ways and that their leadership shaped IMU as a values-driven institution. and when they made an offer, I was interested to see where that path would lead,” Prof. Aziz said.

Having spent most of his career at a public university, Professor Aziz saw this offer as a new challenge and an opportunity to discover a new learning environment.

However, the transition from a state-funded to a private institution was initially a bumpy road.

“It was a steep learning curve for me learning how IMU should be a business as well as a university, so having to develop business acumen was an added dimension,” he said.

“I always believed that education was a universal right, and after so many years at USM, people who had known me for many years feared that it might change my perspective.

“However, throughout my time here at IMU, I have found that the academic imperative is not lost here at IMU. Our reputation is built on quality and our students are recognized as being among the better trained,” he said.

Prof. Aziz soon succeeded Dr. Abu Bakar as Vice Chancellor of IMU and Chairman of IMU Health, with responsibility for managing the strategic direction of the university.

Under his leadership, IMU achieved a six-star Setara* and five-star QS** rating, and is now one of the only local private universities in Malaysia with self-accreditation status, an indication that regulators have great confidence in the internal of the university. quality management.

Today, his main challenge is anticipating the future of healthcare – going beyond quality assurance to add value – to ensure students are well prepared.

“The entire healthcare environment is undergoing rapid change. We are now seeing a shift in health care from treatment to preventive care and from hospital care to clinics, home and personal care.

“We also increasingly see technology as an enabler and the importance of data in improving care. As a university and as a faculty, we need to be able to be nimble and continue to respond to these changes, especially in the area of ​​digital health,” he said.

However, despite all these technological advances, Professor Aziz warns that the human element remains essential.

“It’s about you as a person. We all need soft skills like problem solving and empathy, which are all the more important in an environment dominated by technology and AI.

“That is why we need to develop holistic individuals and we are privileged to have IMU alumni to inspire us in this area as they not only use their training to do well for themselves but also to do good for others,” Prof Aziz said. .

Looking back, having come full circle from his childhood desire to care for others, this seasoned academic is always up for the challenge and fully aware that he still has a lot to offer.

He sums up his legacy eloquently saying, “We have done well, and IMU is a leader in many areas, but the best is yet to come.”

* Setara is an assessment system to measure the quality assurance and standards of higher education institutions in Malaysia based on institutional autonomy, quality and performance. Its rating is based on institutional excellence across three main functions: teaching and learning; research and innovation; and services.

**QS World University Rankings are based on academic reputation, employer reputation and research impact.