We have interviewed Dr Safinah H Hambali, principal dentist and founder of Northvale Dental. 

Dr Safinah migrated to Melbourne with her family from Singapore when she was nine and graduated from University of Melbourne, with a Bachelor of Biomedicine and a Doctor of Dental Surgery.  She runs her own private practice in Northcote, Victoria.

As a Muslim woman and a principal dentist, tell us about what inspired you to pursue this ambitious career path?

Dr Safinah: Thank you for having me today.   Education was such a big part of growing up.   It was very important to my parents.  When we came to Melbourne I went to a Muslim school, getting that academic as well as Islamic studies side of education, which was a great opportunity.

Arabic speakers would know that my name Safinah actually means a big ship. In my first parent teacher interview at this Islamic school the Arabic teacher asks my mum “So why did you name your daughter Safinah.

Did you know Safina means a ship?” My mom was like, “Yes, it does mean a ship.  We did that on purpose but her name is actually Safina Hidayati and Hidayati means guidance.  So my parents named me the guiding ship or the ship that shows the way so maybe it was in my name to one day lead.

I’m currently embarking on this big journey in my life, where I decided to open my own practice from scratch and I see myself as the captain of this ship.  My aim was to be a principal dentist. I love what I do and I think it’s a great way to connect with people. My personality, my skills all work in this environment, but one of the reasons why I wanted to open my own practice was because I wanted to challenge myself and see ‘Can I be a great leader? Can I run a successful practice and grow and build a successful practice?’  I wanted to build something that I can be proud of and the people who support me can be proud of.

One of our first obligations as parents, the rights of our children, is to give them a good name, a name that they can be proud of.  How incredibly inspiring to see the impact that a name can have on a child growing up.  Did you come across any obstacles along the way, particularly around your faith?

Dr Safinah: Well, life is not meant to be easy, we are constantly tested so definitely.  As a young Muslim female growing up in Australia in this Western society, there’s a lot of expectations, but there’s a lot of naivety too.  As you grow up there’s a lot of learning that happens.

One of the biggest challenges in my life when we first came to Australia was that I went to a Muslim school for six years and then I decided myself to move from a Muslim environment into spending my last three years of school in an Anglican grammar school.

I went from an environment where all the girls were wearing hijab to one where I was the only one wearing hijab.  That was a very big culture shock for me.

There were a lot of classmates that probably never met a Muslim in person, especially one wearing a hijab and it was such a big learning journey for me.  I had to really put myself out there and be vulnerable.

I think, living in a Western society is working out your identity, working out who you are.  Being vulnerable, having that courage to reach out and put yourself out there.

Relating that to being a dentist, you’re very connected to people.  You need to be able to make someone feel comfortable.  If I didn’t know what kind of person I am or what I can bring to the table, I think that would make it hard for me to communicate effectively.  Also, the Prophet peace be upon him is a role model of leading by example so we should also strive to lead by example.

Do you have any specific advice for young people, girls in particular, that may be looking to pursue a similar path.

Dr Safinah: My best advice is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor or a teacher or a janitor as long as you love what you’re doing. That’s THE most important part.

Being a dentist, running a practice is not easy.  If you don’t embrace the challenges and the obstacles then I shouldn’t be doing it. Ask yourself, ‘what is my intention in life?’  Having that clear intention was very important in the choices I made.  For me it was about connecting to my Community.

Don’t haphazardly move through your life and not make choices.  You don’t want someone to decide what you should be doing.  Decide for yourself. Say “Yes, I love this! I want to do this!” It just means so much more when you embrace your journey.

Make your intention and then have faith and trust in the plan Allah SWT has for you.

Any closing remarks for us before we wrap up the interview?

Dr Safinah: Well, I think being a young female Muslim in Western society is actually a great opportunity for us, not only for what we can bring to people around us, but also to learn about ourselves.

Don’t forget who you are and embrace your identity.  There’s no limit to what you can achieve.   Take risks, make use of all the opportunities that come your way.  Don’t live with regrets.

At the end of the day being a Muslim is your way of life. Having faith is super important, especially when you’re not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow what’s going to happen next year.

Lastly surround yourself with supportive people.  If I didn’t have the support of my family, my friends, I think I couldn’t do what I’m aiming or trying to do here.