UAB School of Dentistry honors Class of 2024 at 22nd White Coat Ceremony

Left-to-right: Julie Duchock, Lauren Brashear, and Kaytlyn McAllister.Some found dentistry on their own, while for others, dentistry found them.

But regardless of the path they took to get here, all the members of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry’s Class of 2024 made an important step down the road to their professional careers during the 22nd White Coat Ceremony on Friday, August 12.

The annual ceremony marks the moment when members of the third-year class, also referred to as D3s, receive the white coats that are symbolic of their entry into the dental profession. The ceremony will also feature remarks from the School of Dentistry Alumni Association, as well as the recitation of The Dentist’s Pledge honor code.

“The White Coat Ceremony is a chance for our faculty and alumni to welcome our students into the profession of dentistry,” says UAB School of Dentistry dean Russell S. Taichman, DMD, DMSc. “It also marks the students’ dedication to the field of dentistry and their pledge of allegiance to providing the highest standard of care to patients in their careers. It reminds all of us about our commitments as dentists.”

For Julie Duchock, it is a moment she has anticipated since she was a high school student in Niceville, Fla. That’s because dentistry was a career choice that came early to her.

“I always had very positive experiences going to the dentist and the orthodontist while growing up,” says Duchock, who graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in biology. “By the time I was in high school, I started thinking about my making it my career.

“Which is interesting, because nobody in my family is in dentistry. I just kind of woke up one day and decided I want to be part of this community of dental professionals and give other people positive experiences at the dentist like I had growing up. It was just something that intrigued me.”

The path was not quite so clear to Kaitlyn McAllister of Gulf Breeze, Fla. She enrolled at the University of Alabama as a nursing major, but decided during her freshman year that “it wasn’t the field I was meant to be in.”

“So I started shadowing a bunch of different doctors, trying to decide what I wanted to do,” McAllister says. “Then my best friend growing up said I should shadow her dad, who was a dentist in Gulf Breeze. I did that and fell in love with dentistry.

“I love that you’re moving around all day and talking to a bunch of different people. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is the perfect job for me.’ I can’t believe I had never thought about it before. After one day of shadowing him, I was convinced I was going to be a dentist.”

While it has taken two years of hard work and study for the students to make it this far, McAllister says the process was made easier by the collegial atmosphere within the UAB School of Dentistry.

“I really love the culture at UAB,” McAllister says. “The students really care about each other, and everyone helps each other out. The biggest things I was looking for in a dental school were the clinical exposure and the student atmosphere, and UAB has both.”

Lauren Brashear agrees. She says there were several occasions over the past two years when older students were quick to help the younger ones during clinic duties.

“The first time in clinic can be a little disorienting,” says Brashear, who went to high school in Madison, Ala., and received her undergrad degree from UAB in biomedical sciences. “I had just entered clinic and had a patient come in because his dentures were hurting. That was something we had limited experience with.”

“I had several fourth-year students and a faculty member help me learn how to realign the dentures. It was really heartening how much the fourth-year students would take the time to help us out.”

Now, as these D3s receive their coveted white coats, they plan to take that spirit of cooperation and compassion with them. Not only for their fellow School of Dentistry students, but for the patients they will be treating.

“I had a patient who had to have a tooth removed, and she had a major fear of dentists,” McAllister says. “I sat with her through it, and she said I made her feel more comfortable. After a long day, I felt good because I helped make someone’s life a little bit better and got them out of pain.”

“I really want to break that stigma that going to the dentist has to be scary. I want to make patients feel more comfortable. That’s why I want to be a dentist. That’s why we should all be here.”