May 12, 2017
UAB Fiesta Ball Banner May 12, 2017

Gordon R. Isbell III, left, and Ross Isbell

The first injection of local anesthetic is a milestone achievement for a dental student — and a moment of truth. Where to put the needle? What if my hand shakes? What if the needle breaks? What if I miss?

Gordon Isbell III remembers that moment like it was yesterday – not only because it was a rite of passage, but because of the steadying hand on his shoulder as he stood in the second floor clinic at the UAB School of Dentistry on a fall day in 1979.

The hand belonged to Dr. Scotty McCallum – oral surgeon, former dean of the dental school, then vice president for health affairs and later UAB’s third president. “I had grown up knowing him as a family friend,” Dr. Isbell says. “It meant the world to me that he took time to stop by the second floor and be there for my first shot.”

If hands-on experience is the not-so-secret secret to mastering any skill, great teaching is surely the secret sauce. In the Comprehensive Care Clinic, hands-on learning and excellent teaching give third-and fourth-year dental students the opportunity to put classroom knowledge to work.

Every UAB dentist has trained in the Comprehensive Care Clinic, though alumni may know it as the “Second Floor Clinic.” A $2 million renovation is underway to give today’s students a state-of-the-art setting for that training.

Dr. Isbell is one of 20 alumni who have made gifts to name spaces in the clinic. “If the School of Dentistry was a human body, that’s where you’d hear the heartbeat,” he says. “It’s where you learn to deliver great care to your patients, and it’s where the need seems greatest for alumni giving.”

Dr. Isbell’s list of chairmanships, awards and leadership roles includes top positions with the American Dental Association, the Academic of General Dentistry and the American Dental Political Action Committee. He has served on the School of Dentistry’s Dean’s Leadership Council for five years, and in July will become president of the Alabama Dental Association (ALDA).

But his general dentistry practice in Gadsden is still the best part of his professional life. “It’s about patients – the people you can help, and the long-term relationships you develop over time,” he says. “I knew from the time I was 6 years old that this was what I wanted to do because of how I saw my own dentist, Dr. Frank Finney. He was a family friend, and was president of the ALDA, and I wanted to be like him.”

The road to dental school took him to Auburn University, where student government and Sigma Nu provided plenty of opportunities to veer from his plan. “A chemistry professor finally sat me down and told me I would have to make a choice if I wanted to get into dental school,” Dr. Isbell recalls. “So I spent my last six months of college on the UAB campus, focusing on academics.”

After dental school graduation in 1981, Dr. Isbell returned to his hometown and has practiced there ever since. Son Ross — Gordon Roswell Isbell IV — joined the practice after graduating from the School of Dentistry in 2014.

“As a family, we are so proud of this school, and especially proud that it’s the number one dental school in the country,” Dr. Isbell says. “It provides excellent clinical training in a research-focused environment, which is critical to the future of dentistry. So we are happy to have the opportunity to give back, especially to the clinic where all dentists start.”

To support the School of Dentistry: Jeremy Ward, 205.996.6786;