A servant’s heart: Auburn alumnus, Athletics Department dentist Phillips guided by passion for helping others

Published: September 17, 2021
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A need to serve has guided Auburn alumnus Dr. Jim Phillips Jr. through various roles in his esteemed career.

Not only does Phillips volunteer as the Auburn Athletics team dentist, but he also is a member of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, Dean’s Leadership Council, serves on the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame selection committee and recently was elected president of the Alabama Dental Association, or ALDA.

“I’ve always had a feeling and a need to contribute,” Phillips said. “I’m just trying to do my part with the things I do with Auburn and by serving the dental association.”

Phillips graduated from Auburn in 1980, and his relationship with the school runs deeper than simply being his alma mater. His father, Jim “Red” Phillips, was co-captain of the 1957 national championship-winning Auburn football team, and his mother, Mickey, was a majorette.

Phillips was destined for Auburn, and his affinity for the school came naturally.

“A couple of the first words I ever spoke as a baby were ‘War Eagle,’” Phillips said. “I’ve got a plaque that Coach [Shug] Jordan gave me offering a football scholarship when I was born. I grew up knowing about Auburn and wanting to go to Auburn, so it was an easy decision for me. It was in my blood.”

Phillips has volunteered as the team dentist for Auburn Athletics for more than 20 years. His first action in the role? Making mouth guards for Coach Sonny Smith’s men’s basketball team and Coach Joe Ciampi’s women’s basketball team.

Since then, Phillips has been a part of the athletics program through many monumental moments, with his favorite being the 2010 football national championship. However, the most rewarding thing for him is being able to use his expertise to help injured athletes get back on the field.

“It’s been a way for me to give back to the program,” Phillips said. “We just try to take care of the kids. The most rewarding thing is being able to be there for them.”

Phillips has dealt with several major injuries in his time as team dentist.

“We had a women’s basketball player who took an elbow and four of her lower front teeth were laying under her tongue when she came in, but we were able to put the teeth and bone back together and she didn’t lose any of the teeth,” Phillips said. “The football team called me on the plane back from Ole Miss saying that a player took a bad impact, the tooth was protruding through the lip, and I needed to take a look at the tooth. I met them at 5:30 in the morning and helped get him out of pain.”

During football games, you won’t find Phillips on the sidelines, but instead in his preferred stadium seat with his phone nearby for any calls for help. Outside of Jordan-Hare, you might find him helping out on the COSAM Dean’s Leadership Council, serving as an advisor and working with pre-dental students, a role he has gladly served in now for almost 10 years.

The COSAM Dean’s Leadership Council is a network of alumni who work to enhance and promote the college’s mission by serving as the face of the college. Those who are selected as members must have lived and worked while exemplifying the characteristics of a well-rounded citizen.

“It’s an advisory group,” Phillips said. “I think it’s a good group, and we do some good work. We listen and help with fundraising and that kind of thing.”

After graduating from Auburn with a degree in geology, Phillips went on to attend dental school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and served as the student dental association representative. That began his involvement in organized dentistry and the ALDA.

“I saw the value of dentists trying to encourage the improvement of oral health in the community,” said Phillips, who has practiced in Auburn for more than 30 years. “One dentist speaking cannot influence anything, but a group speaking together can have a voice.”

The ALDA is a nonprofit membership organization that is part of the American Dental Association and consists of dentists who practice in the state of Alabama.

As he finished dental school, Phillips’ dean of affairs alerted him about a dental practice that was for sale in Auburn. Phillips took advantage of the opportunity and has maintained Phillips Family Dentistry in the Auburn community for more than 30 years.

“In my junior and senior year, I was looking for a place to practice,” Philips said. “We were looking for anywhere along 280 from Columbus [Georgia] to Birmingham. It was a situation where the guy was leaving to go into the military, and the practice became available. I bought the practice and never looked back.”

Before being elected ALDA president, Phillips had served as chair of the strategic planning council, vice president and president-elect.

As he steps into his new role as president, Phillips’ goal is to break down barriers within dentistry and to advocate for dentists around the state. He wants to make sure that all dentists in the state, regardless of practice model or specialty, feel represented.

“We try very hard to be representative of all dentists in the state of Alabama,” Phillips said. “The biggest thing we have to do is be an advocate for our dentists and patients we serve.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.