UAB alumni forging the future of medicine, patient care in Alabama

UAB medical, dental and optometry alumni helping lead way in practicing medicine in the state of Alabama.

DoctorsJoomla1For alumni of the University of Alabama at Birmingham schools of MedicineDentistry and Optometry, the commitment to Alabama is significant, and it continues to make a tremendous impact on significant health needs in the state.

According to data from the American Medical Association, Alabama Optometric Association and Alabama Dental Association, UAB graduates in these professions opt to stay home and practice medicine here in Alabama.  


  • 68 percent of licensed and practicing optometrists in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Optometry
  • 75 percent of licensed and practicing dentists in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Dentistry
  • 44 percent licensed and practicing physicians in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Medicine (does not include residency graduates)

“The overwhelming number of UAB alumni practicing in our state reflects the tremendous and long-lasting influence of UAB and our world-renowned academic medical center,” said Ray L. Watts, president of UAB. “UAB has an impact on nearly all of our state’s hospitals, private practices and dozens of medical specialties. With community engagement, economic development and patient care serving as key goals in UAB’s strategic plan, our alumni truly are putting our strategic plan into action by forging the future of our state in the medical, dental and optometric fields.”

DoctorsJoomla2Unique needs 

UAB medical students and residents practice in the third-largest public hospital and one of the 20 largest overall hospitals in the United States, and UAB is home to the only schools of dentistry and optometry in Alabama. UAB’s reach extends to physicians in urban cities and suburban communities, as well as in rural and underserved areas of the state.

Many of Alabama’s nearly 5 million residents are medically underserved or lack key medical specialties near their homes. In fact, the overwhelming need for more optometrists in the state resulted in the genesis of the School of Optometry, as nearly five decades ago Alabama ranked 49th of the 50 regarding volume of practicing optometrists.

“The School of Optometry was born in response to the federal government’s increasing funding for the supply of health professionals, including optometrists,” said Kelly Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., professor and dean of UAB’s School of Optometry. “In our experience, student leadership translates to professional leadership within Alabama, and our doctors go on to impact the lives of their patients across the state. We’re proud that we have an alumni presence in 64 of Alabama’s 67 counties.”

  • 68 percent of licensed and practicing optometrists in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Optometry
  • 75 percent of licensed and practicing dentists in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Dentistry
  • 44 percent licensed and practicing physicians in Alabama graduated from the UAB School of Medicine *does not include residency graduates

To highlight areas of need and opportunities for future physicians, UAB’s schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Optometry have leveraged their unique platforms to provide opportunities for students to see firsthand the ongoing demand for medical specialists and services across the state.

For instance, the School of Dentistry’s Community Dentistry course highlights Alabama’s scholarship and loan programs for dental students who choose to practice in rural and underserved areas. It also provides voluntary opportunities for fourth-year students to spend time practicing at a community health center or rural practice as an introduction to open job opportunities. In the School of Medicine, students in their third year of medical school continue their educations in Birmingham or at one of the school’s three regional campuses in Huntsville, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. It is a firsthand way for students to learn about the medical needs of patients beyond Birmingham.

“Our hope is that, by giving students the opportunity to learn more about at-risk areas of need in our state or about communities where they can establish and grow a practice, we are helping plant seeds for the future growth of physicians in our state,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, senior vice president for Medicine and dean of UAB’s School of Medicine.

Why Alabama

For many dental, optometry and medical students, residency and fellowship opportunities can take them away from Alabama; but returning to practice as a full-time physician in the state is more attractive than ever.

Maggie Grissom, a fourth-year dentistry student from Anniston, Alabama, is graduating from UAB’s School of Dentistry in June. From there, she and her husband are off to the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston for a 26-month orthodontic residency, but plan to return to Gadsden, Alabama, upon completion to practice. To Grissom, being able to return to a community similar to the ones in which she and her husband grew up is important, as they recognize the critical role they can play as dentists and specialists.

“Education is very important, and taking the time to prioritize this in any place is key and can make a huge difference in areas that don’t have the access to care that they do in bigger cities,” Grissom said. “I think dentistry is the best profession in the world, and we have a unique opportunity to serve our communities in a very powerful way. We are excited for the potential opportunity to be able to serve the communities we grew up in and fill a major void that exists.”

Additionally, three-time UAB School of Medicine alumna Sarah Nafziger, M.D., professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and assistant medical director of the State Office of Emergency Medical Services, says that practicing in the state of Alabama was always something she viewed as a privilege and a way to fulfill her dream of being a doctor. Now she believes more than ever that Alabama is primed to attract and keep Alabama-trained physicians in the state. 

DoctorsJoomla3“I was in the first resident class of UAB’s Department of Emergency Medicine, a program developed to address the shortage of physicians in our state and with the goal of retaining residents to work here,” Nafziger said. “If people who are trained at UAB see the potential in staying or returning after they complete future trainings, it’s a great way to improve health care in our state and address underserved areas and components that hinder all Alabamians from getting optimal health services. Alabama is an attractive place to live and practice medicine in.”

While the number of practicing medical, dental and optometric UAB alumni in Alabama continues to grow, many believe this is just the start of a continued resurgence.

“Based on the high volume of UAB alumni practicing medicine across our state, we think we are on the right track and can continue to prime Alabama’s future doctors for successful medical paths right here in our own backyards,” Vickers said. “Our state is a key example of the immense potential that future and returning physicians can provide, in both quality and availability of medical care for all Alabamians in need.”