Fall 2020
Spotlight

Oral History

The chief dental officer for the U.S. Army shares some of the wisdom he learned at Pitt.

U.S. flag in background, wearing in formal uniform with tie, U.S. pin on one lapel and an American flag pin on the other lapelSome of the most formative lessons Shan Bagby learned at Pitt were delivered over a lunch table.

As a young man from New Jersey, freshly enrolled in the University’s School of Dental Medicine, Bagby was excited to kick off his career. But his new surroundings would take some getting used to.

He soon met someone who helped him feel at home. Alonzo McDonald was an assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and had been one of the first Black oral surgeons to practice in Pittsburgh.

The two had many lunches together. “He really took me under his wing,” recalls Bagby. “We talked about focusing on what you have in common with people. He was a real father figure, and it made all the difference.”

It surely did, considering what Bagby (DEN ’93) has accomplished.

Today, he’s the chief dental officer for the U.S. Army, overseeing standards and policies for dental practice throughout the Army Dental Care System. Bagby is the first African American to hold the position. The decorated Army general—who has served for 31 years—manages an annual budget of $8 billion and more than 1,000 practitioners tending to the dental health of 400,000 troops based worldwide. Now residing in San Antonio, Texas, he also serves as the principal advisor to the Army Surgeon General on all matters relating to dentistry.

Bagby acknowledges several mentors throughout his life, but the inclusive wisdom he received at Pitt helps characterize his leadership style, which is hinged on finding the humanity in others.

“We’re meeting a human need,” he says. “That’s what dentistry is about.”

 

This article appears in the Fall 2020 edition of Pitt Magazine.