It’s a good thing Dr. Rodney Marshall (’85) has been a student of leadership for much of his adult life. He has been called upon to be a leader in his community and profession time and time again.

""The Tuscaloosa dentist’s leadership includes serving as president of the school’s Alumni Association in 2002, leading the school’s Ethics Seminar the past twelve years, and mentoring dental students for more than twenty years. With his local district dental society (the Sixth District), he helped UAB dental students raise money to dig wells in the Sudan.

“Whenever any crisis comes up and you are in a position of leadership, it requires you to be there whenever you’re needed,” said Marshall. As Alabama Dental Association president, he has been in the trenches with other Alabama health care, business and government leaders to tackle the many challenges of COVID-19, and to forge back to work policies and guidelines. “We looked at issues of when it was safe to go back to work and how to best protect our patients, employees, and ourselves, and I had the time to work with our profession because we were basically shut down for six weeks.”

He said, “When I became president of the Alabama Dental Association we became more proactive in our leadership. I wanted us to have anticipatory leadership. This is basically when something comes out of nowhere, what do you do?”

Marshall admits he and other dentists weren’t fully prepared for the COVID-19 crisis because there was no history on which to rely. “Things were changing daily. Sometimes we were afraid to act because they changed rapidly. Some of the issues we addressed were likely to change, so we reserved the right to change our opinions,” he said. “It’s amazing how we came together with government. We (the dental profession) felt we were equal as we shared knowledge with other professionals and learned from each other collectively. There didn’t seem to be any bias or turf protection.”

Marshall and his dental partner and father-in-law Dr. Hiram Johnson saw only emergency patients for six weeks during the shutdown. He says they are back to about 75 percent capacity. Because of distancing guidelines and the extra time it takes to make sure they are following sanitation, PPE, and other protocols, they can’t treat as many patients as they did pre COVID-19. But he says, “Patients feel safe. Dentists are the best prepared health care professionals to deal with infection control, aerosols, and insuring we have the proper protocols and personal protection equipment in place.”

As the UAB School of Dentistry’s 2020 graduating class received their diplomas virtually this year, Marshall played an important part in the graduation ceremony as one of the speakers. “I wanted them to know they are not alone, that they have someone who cares about them. They may not know their names right now, but it will be someone from the Alumni Association or the Alabama Dental Association who will help them in the future,” he remarked in his graduation speech.

This year has been like no other. The dental profession has needed leadership that is substantive, proactive, and inclusive. Marshall and several other Alabama dentists have been providing that leadership. The hope is they will continue to lead the profession and pass on these skills to the Class of 2020 and beyond.

By J. Scott Huffman, CFRE