MIDDLETOWN, Pa. --
Being the best at many things isn’t just difficult – it can be like pulling teeth.
Just ask Lt. Col. Nicole Yingling a 193rd Special Operations Medical Group dentist, a board-certified civilian root canal therapy specialist, and business owner and operator of two private practices.
But Yingling’s successes weren’t handed to her – the journey to the top included more than nine years of intense graduate and undergraduate schooling, admissions exams, certifications, officer training school, adjusting to life abroad, and everything that comes with the rigors of opening and running two of your own businesses.
Yingling started her journey at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts, graduating in 1988 with her Bachelor of Science in biotechnology.
I was so set on getting a job right after earning my four-year degree that I hadn’t put any thought into continuing my education after that, and quite frankly, I didn't want to, Yingling explained.
Upon graduating, instead of going right into the workforce, she ended up making the decision to further her education with encouragement from her family and mentors. However, she didn’t choose just any post-baccalaureate education, Yingling decided to pursue dental school.
Now, her next steps were to prepare for and take the Dental Admission Test, which was required in order to apply to any dental school. After getting accepted to a few schools, Yingling chose to go to the four-year dental school at the University of Connecticut, Farmington, Connecticut.
Upon completing her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1992, Yingling decided she wanted to participate in a one-year advanced education residency in general dentistry with the Air Force, so she was sent to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
To complete her two-year service commitment with the Air Force after completing the residency, she was selected for the general dentist officer position at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
In addition to traveling and meeting her husband while in the Air Force, there were other benefits to being an active duty dentist in the military, Yingling stated. She was able to enlist as a captain, and later in her military career she was offered the opportunity to choose a career specialty.
Her two-year service commitment with the Air Force turned into 11 years. She later relocated to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, after getting married and starting a family. In 1999 she started her specialty training in an endodontics program at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, specializing in the treatment of root canals. After completing this program in 2001, her and her family relocated to Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., where she finished out her active duty military career as the director of endodontics and separated in 2003.
While there were benefits to being a dentist in the military, Yingling stated that there were also some challenges that she had to face.
“Coming in as a captain, everyone thought I had been in for four or five years, when in reality I had only been [active duty] for a week,” said Yingling. “Everyone assumed I had knowledge so I needed to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself.”
A second challenge she had to face was the fact that future assignments for her and her husband would likely split up their family, a major contributing factor to why she separated from the active duty scene.
After separating, Yingling and her family settled down in Gettysburg where her and her husband opened an endodontics practice, Mason-Dixon Endodontics, in 2003. They now own and operate a second endodontics practice located in Chambersburg, which opened in 2009.
Later that same year, Yingling completed all of the phases for her certification and was officially board certified.
“It took so much work and I am very proud of it,” Yingling confessed. “There are only about 20 percent of us that are board certified.”
In addition to this accomplishment, Yingling also published a journal contribution in 2002 and has been an active member of six different associations throughout her career.
Yingling’s next career steppingstone was in 2015 when she enlisted into the 193rd SOMDG as a general dentist.
“I had always been at a base with other dentists and the thing I missed most as a civilian dentist was the camaraderie and someone to talk to about stuff, and I wanted that back,” said Yingling. “I tell my family and friends it was a mid-life crisis. Some people go out and buy sports cars, I enlisted back into the Air Force.”
Even though she has only been with the 193rd Special Operations Wing here for three years, Yingling’s peers say that she has been an asset to the wing.
“Not only is Dr. Yingling one of our talented dentists,” said Col. Julie Carpenter, 193rd SOMDG commander. “But she is also chairperson of our Infection Control Committee. She is dedicated to ensuring the dental health of our wing population and takes every advantage to incorporate teaching healthy dental habits into each patient encounter.”
Yingling enjoys working with patients because of how rewarding it is being able to help people, but adds that it can also be hard at times.
“When I was active duty, I remember patients always wanted to be there,” said Yingling. “Then I came to the civilian world expecting the same thing, but found that my civilian patients have a lot of anxiety. Some are upset because they’re missing work, others because it’s costing them a lot of money, they’re in pain, and some just don't want to be here.”
For Yingling, however, the rewarding moments in her career overcome tough times, and she’s happy with where her path has taken her.
“I think that for me, I have the perfect balance,” said Yingling. “I have the independence of owning my own practice and making my own decisions, but I also have the camaraderie of the military and the satisfaction of serving my country.”