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It has been a four-year journey from trepidation to triumph for the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry’s Class of 2024.

Pictured left to right: Megha Patel, Heath Padgett, and Kaytlyn McAllisterThese students arrived at UAB in 2020 during the heart of the initial Covid pandemic surge. At a time of virtual learning and social distancing, when people were being advised to maintain at least 6 feet of separation from each other, this class was challenged to get to know each other and form the ‘family’ bonds that are typical of UAB SOD classes.

But not only did these students persevere through it all, they thrived - together. Ultimately, every member of the Class of 2024 passed the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE). Now they are poised to receive their degrees, enabling them to officially venture into the dental profession.

“The class of 2024 adapted and adjusted to a variety of situations and circumstances they could not control, and they did so with grace, aplomb and steadiness,” says Ramzi Abou-Arraj, D.D.S., M.S., a professor in the Department of Periodontology and Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “Despite some bumps in the early part of their educational journey during the pandemic closure, their performance has been impressive.

“Not only did 100 percent of the students pass the INBDE exam, they performed 1.57 standard deviations above the national average, and their performance in most Clinical Content and Foundational Knowledge areas was well above the national average. This illustrates their success over four years of dental school.”

In addition to gaining knowledge, the Class of 2024 gained friendships that were formulated from banding together during the unusual circumstances of their SOD arrival.

“I am so proud of our class,” SOD Class of 2024 president Heath Padgett says. “We made the most of things in times of chaos, and charting forth a path in times of change. We have been engaged, curious and always willing to challenge the status quo. We not only have scored top-notch academically on both an institutional and national level, but we have proven to be a class of character and one that is always eager to learn.”

Padgett continues, “UAB, and our class, is a community that cares. We look out for each other and seek to lift one another up. We care about the small things and look to mentor those who come behind us.”

“The biggest things I was looking for in a dental school were the clinical exposure and the student atmosphere, and UAB has both.”

Kaytlyn McAllister
Class of 2024

Immediate-past SOD SGA president and classmate Kaytlyn McAllister expands on the supportive environment. “I really love the culture at UAB. The students really care about each other, and everyone helps each other out,” she says.

McAllister is a student admission ambassador and served as the student representative on the school’s 75th Anniversary Committee. The group planned a year of activities to engage the SOD faculty, staff, students, and alumni with each other and the school’s history.

She was also the first to serve as a student communications liaison and was integral to the February 2022 Instagram channel relaunch. Since then, she has helped build the channel into a thriving and engaged student-centered community.

But this class is not defined by a sense of community alone.

Four years of dental school can be extremely demanding even without the challenges of Covid. So, Padgett says that simply making it to graduation illustrates the strength and determination of the Class of 2024.

Pictured left to right: Kaytlyn McAllister, Heath Padgett, and Megha Patel“Tremendous amounts of effort were required for each of us to get into dental school, but perhaps even more effort was required for us these past four years as we have worked so hard to get to this moment to graduate,” Padgett says. “The countless hours of study, lab work and calling patients has all been worth it.”

Fellow Class of 2024 graduate Megha Patel agrees. In particular, she says the amount of clinical experience she received at UAB has been extremely valuable in preparing her for a dental career.

“UAB is known to provide impeccable clinical experiences to its students that really prepare them to enter the real world with confidence,” Patel says. “I feel fortunate to have been able to reap the benefits of the program, and I have my clinical faculty to thank. They pushed me to challenge my fears and learn something new every day.

“My journey in dental school has been such a memorable experience where I was able to really grow as a person and a clinician. Not only did I gain valuable knowledge, but I was also surrounded by supportive faculty and friends who helped me develop as a dentist. Dental school did not just provide me with a career, but it provided me with a family of people who I can always reach out to for support and insight.”

Of course, this is but one step on the career journey for the Class of 2024. The work of these graduates will continue in a variety of ways, from dental practice to research to academia. Abou-Arraj says approximately one-third of the Class will be seeking further education through residency programs in general dentistry and a variety of dental specialties.

But regardless of which direction they take, the Class of 2024 will always have one thing in common: the memories of their four years together in the UAB School of Dentistry.

“Dental school has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life,” Padgett says. “Now we are indeed ready. We have been given tremendous opportunities to learn and grow clinically, personally and professionally, and we can’t wait to leave an impact on the world around us.”