"Dean Taichman"

Written by: Russell S. Taichman, D.M.D., D.M.Sc.

These past few months, the University of Alabama System and our campus community have worked together to implement guidance at UAB in response to COVID-19.

We continue to monitor their recommendations, as well as that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, the American Dental Education Association, and our state board.

As a school, we have had to pivot and adapt rapidly within an ever-changing environment. Most of our faculty and staff were released to work remotely, while a few remained to maintain limited on-site emergency care. We quickly shifted to remote learning and, in the midst of it all, we completed the spring term online and celebrated the graduation of our senior class in our first virtual commencement ceremony. It has been inspirational to see everyone working together to ensure we maintained the educational excellence for which we are known. As I see our faculty and staff prepare for students to return next week, I am grateful for the resilience, strength, and determination of our community -- our students, residents, staff, and faculty have more than risen to the challenge.

Our clinics have now reopened, we are back in business, and we have persevered – and we have emerged stronger, more resilient, and better positioned for the future. Through it all, I have gotten the hang of Box and Zoom to collaborate with colleagues around the school and across campus. In fact, I may have even coined the term “Zoomie” somewhere in the middle of our 1,000th hour of virtual meetings when I asked the D3 class to turn on their cameras so we could do one big selfie on Zoom.

One of the great joys of being your dean is that students of every nationality, race, and upbringing have reached out to me with stories of what dentistry means to them. Most poignant was the story a student shared at one of our “lunch and learn” sessions. A patient approached the student with tears in her eyes. Having never seen anyone who looked like herself in a health care setting, the patient shared she had not realized her daughter could actually be a dentist – that is before she met the student. Powerful stuff.

Building on that story, I want to share two moments of great pride from the last couple of months. Around us, we have seen riots in Birmingham and race has become a major issue on the national scene. Our students have many opinions on this topic as well, and many are working with faculty to develop educational opportunities for all of us to be better citizens. I am proud of their work, and we all look forward to when they are ready to engage us in prime time. In the meantime, our admissions team has recruited the most diverse class the school has ever had, not to mention one of our most impressive classes from a credential standpoint. I believe the Class of 2024 will have long-term benefits for our profession and on the communities where our students come from. Thank you to Drs. Janice Jackson, Noel Childers, Edward Bradford, and Carly McKenzie, as well as admissions staff. I look forward to meeting our new D1 class in a few days and learning from them what new opportunities arise from having a more diverse student body more reflective of the population of Alabama.

Speaking of meetings, I can’t wait to see many of our practice community at our virtual 14th Annual Dental Hygiene Symposium this year. This year’s venue is perfect for social distancing. Okay, so it will be my 1,001st Zoom meeting, but we are very excited to offer it online so more can attend. Perhaps we could challenge each office that participates in a watch party to take the best “Zoomie” of each other. Of course, your office would need to beat the photo of our faculty wearing silly hats!