Alabama dental school aims to capitalize on best investment—its people

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry Dean Michael Reddy, DMD, DMSc, and his team have ambitious goals for the school in the coming years in its efforts to optimize oral health in Alabama and beyond.

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University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry Dean Michael Reddy, DMD, DMSc, and his team have ambitious goals for the school in the coming years in its efforts to optimize oral health in Alabama and beyond.

Over the next five years, the school will evolve its strategic plan initially developed when Reddy became dean in 2012. That plan reaches for excellence in the dental educational experience, enhances its diversity, broadens its capacity to help others in communities throughout the state, and adds to its degree, certificate, and fellowship programs.

“Our greatest asset is our people—our students, faculty, staff, and alumni—and they demonstrate that every day in their compassion, ambition and work,” Reddy said. “They help us sustain a tradition of excellence in community service, research and scholarship, ethics and professionalism, and clinical dentistry. The result is a school that can aggressively recruit the best faculty, expand diversity, enhance the student experience, enrich research, increase philanthropy, and improve our facilities—all to optimize health outcomes.”

Research
The School of Dentistry has worked to expand research efforts since it was awarded a seven-year, $66.8 million grant from the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network in 2012, which ranked it No. 1 for dental school funding by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The school’s 58 faculty members are funded at an impressive average of $220,000 each in support. They average 4.6 research papers published per faculty member, including several recent research advances. Total grant and contract submissions have risen 20% since 2011.

The dental school is concentrating its efforts around four research themes:
Biomaterial science/biomimetic theme incorporates dental materials and implants, producing medical devices, regenerative medicine, dental stem cells, growth factors, and bony wound healing.
Infection/host response theme includes oral infectious diseases, microbiome, inflammation, immunosenescence, and interactions between oral and overall health and disease.
Implementation science/clinical outcomes theme focuses on National Dental Practice-Based Research Network activities, clinical effectiveness, clinical trials, and public health issues.
Craniofacial development/genetics theme examines craniofacial development and growth, genetic disorders of the craniofacial complex, personalized genomic-based dentistry, and imaging studies related to normal and disease-associated growth.

“Our goal is to strengthen these four areas and continue to develop the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network to keep us on the cutting edge,” Reddy said. “We believe our expertise in research will allow us to leverage our current funding into more research dollars so we’re poised to maintain our leadership of oral health research.”

Education and student experience
UAB aims to create a strong pipeline of dentists in Alabama and beyond by offering quality educational and training opportunities for the next-generation workforce. The school prides itself on a 100% pass rate on the first and second steps of the national dental licensing examination and in graduating people with vast clinical experience, opportunities for research, and a high level of training in ethics and professionalism.

Reddy wants the school to expand its dual-degree program offerings to include DMD/MPH and DMD/MBA in addition to its current DMD/PhD and MD/DMD programs.

“Strategically, we are positioning ourselves where our students know, when they come here, they will have every opportunity imaginable in our field available to them,” Reddy said. “We also plan to add a global dentistry program to invite international dentists to join our current DMD program on an accelerated track. This will provide a new layer of diversity to enrich our student experience.”

Dental School Dean Michael Reddy
Dean Michael Reddy

Along with new degree options, the dental school has developed several pipeline programs aimed at diversifying the student body and increasing the number of minorities entering dental school. A Health Careers Opportunity Program and a Summer Health Enrichment Program engage middle school, high school and college students in learning about dentistry careers. Additionally, the School of Dentistry is working with the Alabama Department of Education to identify schools with a primarily Hispanic and Latino population to advance its Hispanic Dental Association Immersion Program.

“We are engaged in these and other diversity initiatives in an effort to continue to nurture and diversify our student body,” said Michelle Robinson, DMD, associate dean for Health Information and Business Systems in the School of Dentistry and vice chair of the school’s Strategic Planning and Assessment Committee.

Patient experience
A recently instituted student ambassador program is in many ways the front door for patients into the school. Students are often the first people to greet patients when they walk into the school; they serve as guides to help patients navigate their way to the proper clinic for care.

“Our visitors and our patients love being greeted by our students; we hear it all the time,” Robinson said. “It’s great for the students because it starts to enhance their communication with patients.”

The school plans to launch the second phase of its electronic medical record program this July so patients can have peace of mind knowing that all of their providers at the School of Dentistry have up-to-date information on their courses of care. The long-term plan is for the school’s electronic record to link to UAB Medicine’s medical records, giving all caregivers a clear picture of their patient’s overall health.

The UAB Dentistry Cares Community Day will return this fall with a few tweaks. The dental school will also continue its partnership with the state dental association to build upon the Alabama Dental Workforce Development Project, a program enabling the school to identify and incentivize dentists who will practice four years in areas around the state with limited access to oral health care. Initial funding of $500,000 was provided through a workforce development grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Leadership also plans to place its general practice residency program into some of these areas of limited access in an effort to improve dental care for the underserved throughout Alabama.

On campus, a new, unique dental wellness clinic also is in development. Caregivers in the clinic will check standard measurements—height and weight, and diabetic indicators if the patient is diabetic, for example—giving the patient an up-to-date look at some of their most vital health information.

“By putting this clinic in place, we can monitor a patient’s blood pressure, perform a hemoglobin test for diabetes, or tests for some other indicator if they are here several times over the course of a couple of weeks to get a crown, for example,” Reddy said. “We can pass that information on to the patient’s physician, and they don’t have to go in for another doctor’s visit. It will give us and the patient a holistic approach to their care.”

“We are very proud that our School of Dentistry is consistently recognized as one of the top in the nation,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Dean Reddy and his team have put a great deal of thought into the many initiatives encompassed in their strategic plan that promise to keep the school at the forefront of research and care, all while making a real difference in our community.”

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