Peter Waite

Earlier this summer, Dr. Peter Waite stepped down as Chair of UAB’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMS). Dr. Patrick Louis was appointed the interim successor to Waite, who had served as chair since 1993.

For a man who has meant so much to so many people, he may have relinquished his role as chair, but he will continue to make a difference in the lives of his patients, students, residents, and alumni. “Some chairmen have stuck around too long. I didn’t want to leave a void in the department, so I thought it best to identify new leaders and have new ideas. I plan on being around for a few more years," said Waite.

Waite’s path to become a preeminent oral surgeon shouldn’t have been a surprise. His father, Dan, had a forty year career at the University of Minnesota as professor and OMS chair. When Waite started looking at schools to pursue an Oral and Maxillofacial residency, his father recommended he head south to Alabama, home of the legendary Charles “Scotty” McCallum. “I never planned to stay in Alabama. I spent a couple of years in Germany, we had some faculty retirements, and before too long I was on the faculty and then chair,” shared Waite. “Dr. McCallum has been a great mentor and hero to me, and my father always gave me good advice.”

Waite says it’s the impact he’s had on people that’s most humbling. He has served UAB students, residents, and patients for the past 33 years. Calculating 200 major surgeries a year, sixty plus students a year, and three to four residents equates to more than 6,000 major surgeries (many for the underserved), one hundred plus residents and 2,000 students trained. “Peter truly has done an outstanding job of running and managing our department,” said Dr. Warren Arrasmith, the Thomas Jones Endowed Professor in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at UAB. “He really grew our faculty, and made it more diverse in so many ways, particularly by age and skill set. He’s also done a nice job of working with our alumni and keeping UAB nationally prominent.”

When asked about his accomplishments, Waite talks about helping others, and giving his patients smiles they wouldn’t have otherwise. A few years ago, he performed surgery on Jeffrey Palmer, who broke every bone in his face in an automobile accident. After spending a full day reconstructing Palmer’s face, his mother, Gail Palmer told the Birmingham Business Journal, “He truly is a Godsend. (He) gave me back my son and his beautiful face after a near fatal car crash.”

Just walking the halls of the School of Dentistry, the Kirklin Clinic, or UAB Hospital, it’s easy to see the impact Waite has had on others, particularly the faculty he’s mentored. “My long term goal was to create stability in our department, to recruit and retain a high quality, diverse, faculty. I’m also very proud we have a world renowned, top notch oral surgery department,” he said. “If you go to an oral surgery meeting anywhere in the world, they know UAB, and I hope I helped enhance our reputation. Our faculty are recognized worldwide for their clinical research, our surgical treatment of sleep apnea, and in many other areas.”

Waite’s service and impact on the school and department haven’t gone unnoticed by others. According to dean Russ Taichman, “Peter has been a positive agent of change for the school. He modernized the OMS department, and he’s provided the leadership that has set UAB on a positive trajectory for many, many years to come.”

Under Waite’s leadership, the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery has seen many improvements, including clinic renovations, a more diverse faculty, the development of an oral cancer program, and expanded clinical operations at the UAB Medicine Oral Surgery Clinic in Hoover. Waite will be spending a lot of his time directing efforts at that clinic. “I hope I can still provide senior leadership and provide experiential advice. I’ll continue to be involved with several organizations. I have been invited to be the Kitty Robinson speaker at the 2021 Alumni Weekend. Next year, I also plan to lecture in Greece and Brazil,” said Waite. He will also serve as President of the Southeastern Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

Waite and his wife Sallie have made Alabama their home. They have three grown children and three grandchildren in Birmingham. They recently built a mountain home in Jackson Hole, WY where he will play cowboy during the summers.

For the foreseeable future, he plans to contribute to the school and department any way he can, including philanthropically. “Academically, UAB has been a great place for our specialty,” said Waite. “I feel it’s important to give back more than your time. I get a certain degree of happiness. It gives me great pride to give back to UAB.”