“If someone had told me when I was 8 years old that someday I would ?be a Navy dentist like my dad, I would have told that person he was crazy,” reflects Lieutenant Commander Corinne Devin, DMD, MS.
As crazy as it seemed to a young Devin, who was raised in a Navy family, a career in dentistry was always in her cards. Her father served in the Navy Dental Corps for 20 years. When he retired from service, the family moved to Reno, Nev, where he entered into private practice. At the time, Devin was attending Saint Mary’s College of California, pursuing a degree in communications.
While on break from college, Devin and her brother would join their father in his mobile dental van, which traveled around the greater Reno area visiting elementary schools.
“My dad has always stressed the importance of giving back,” Devin explains. “It’s a value that he wanted to instill in my brother and me.”
In one particular instance, Devin recalls a young second-grade girl who was trembling and visibly nervous to be seen by her father. “After my dad was able to calm her and get her to not only sit in the exam chair, but to open her mouth, he dropped the probe in surprise. The girl’s molars were rotted right down to the bone. There was this little girl, at 8 years old, wrenched with pain that is 100% preventable. It broke my heart.”
It was then that Devin had a career epiphany: she would go to dental school.
But, as she explains, it wasn’t an easy process to switch gears away from her communications curriculum. “I wasn’t your typical dental school applicant,” Devin notes. “I didn’t have a biology background; I was a college cheerleader working toward a communications degree. However, I knew I wanted to help kids like that little girl.
“Ultimately, I did my dissertation on how to effectively communicate with children in a public healthcare setting. When it comes to healthcare—not just oral health—there are so many things you have to be cognizant of, let it be neglect or abuse.”
After graduation, Devin applied to the Navy Dental Corps because the program offered solid financial assistance and, for her, familiarity.
“When I interviewed and met with individuals in the program, I really liked the low-key atmosphere of the Dental Corps,” she says. “What’s more, the attendees and professors who had a military background were all very innovative—they weren’t afraid to push the envelope. I wanted to have that same experience, especially being young and having an impressionable mind going into my career.”
Through the Navy’s assistance, Devin attended the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while simultaneously completing the requirements for Officer Candidate School.
In the spring of 2007, she relocated to San Diego to complete the Navy’s 1-year, advanced education session in general ?dentistry.
“That’s when I [learned about] orthodontics as a profession,” Devin recalls. “I didn’t have braces when I was younger, so I didn’t have that exposure to the profession that a lot of my peers have. Instead, I had a number of my professors tell me that I had the personality of an orthodontist. I thought, ‘What does that even mean?’
“That was 10 years ago, and I understand now what others were trying to tell me. I went into dentistry to be a pediatric dentist—I love treating kids,” she explains. “But I also love to work hard and find unique solutions for issues. In dentistry, you see a cavity, you fill it. It’s two plus two equals four. But, in orthodontics, two plus two can equal five. It can equal six. There are multiple ways of treating a case that yield the results you’re after. Learning how to be innovative is what I love about orthodontics.”
The Definitive Route
In the 1990s, Devin’s father—a Navy dentist—was deployed to Saudi Arabia where he treated US troops, as well as Saudis and Iraqis. In 2009, Devin again followed in her father’s footsteps, only this time to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“All of the kids in my family—my brother, my cousin, and me—deployed the same year, at the same time,” she recalls. “My cousin flies Black Hawks for the Army and my brother is a submariner. He likes to tease me by saying he’s in the ‘real’ Navy because he goes underwater.”
Sibling rivalries aside, Devin was deployed to Al Asad, Iraq, an area of the country that experienced significant unrest during the war.
“While I was there working as a general dentist, I helped treat more than 30,000 Iraqi training forces, as well as US troops in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines,” she notes. “I wired a lot of jaws shut. Some of these guys would get into altercations, perhaps with each other or with the enemy, and I would have to put forth my dental training to get them back into the field.”
While on deployment in Iraq, the topic of orthodontics did not fade for Devin. While abroad, she submitted her application for the Navy’s postgraduate dental school and was accepted. She returned stateside—this time to Fort Hood, Tex—to embark on her next venture: orthodontics.
“Orthodontic residency was learning a wealth of knowledge, all over again,” Devin recalls. “I was educated alongside others from different branches of our military. Ultimately, that translates into four different interpretations among students working together in the same room.”
Devin completed her orthodontic studies in 2012; shortly thereafter, she received orders from the Navy that she would be shipped to Yokosuka, Japan. Her tour there would last for 27 months.
“That was an adventure,” she recalls. “I was able to work on two islands and practice with two wonderful Navy orthodontists, as well as collaborate with specialists from other branches of our military. It was a great experience.”
While overseas, Devin was able to work with children, the aspect that led her to dentistry years prior. As she recalls, she and the other specialists treated an estimated 70% children and 30% adults while abroad. These numbers were in direct opposition compared to her current role in the United States, where she primarily treats active-duty adults.
Currently, Devin is stationed at Naval Base San Diego where she serves as the base’s only orthodontist. “There are only 20 Navy orthodontists in the entire world, with about 30% being women” she notes. “It’s great in many ways, because it makes you very famous with the patients. However, it’s limiting in other ways because we simply cannot see everyone who may want treatment.
“The motto of the military is get the soldier back to the call of duty, whether it’s on a battlefield or a ship,” Devin continues. “In orthodontics, no one ever dies of crooked teeth. We’re really more of a perk. Our job in the States is helping other specialties. We’re like quarterbacks on a football team; we get the teeth all in the right place so that other specialists can go in there and do their jobs well.”
Devin now serves as the lead orthodontist and attendee at the same advanced learning program she completed a handful of years ago. “It’s a bit surreal. Some of the same assistants are here from when I was a student, and it’s so great to come back to that familiar environment,” she notes.
In her time thus far at the San Diego base, Devin and her team have gotten a lot of exposure with full-mouth rehab, in which the patient must be seen by a number of specialists. “The fact that I work alongside all walks of specialists in my field is one of my favorite aspects of being an orthodontist in the Navy,” she explains. “If there’s a particular element that I want to explore on a case, I have the experts within arm’s reach. That is such a blessing.”
And throughout her career, she’s had access to a number of experts and mentors to guide her unique career path. Devin credits the influence of George Richards, DDS; Marshall Brownstein; Louisa Sanders, DDS; Michael Sanders, DMD, EdM, MPH; Karl Kingsley, PhD, MPH; and Gillian Galbraith, MD, whom Devin worked with while attending dental school at the University of Nevada. In addition, while doing her residency at Fort Hood, Devin worked closely with Col Gary Gardner, CAPT Brent Callegari, Col Colin Mihalik, Col Ricardo Vendrell, Col Drew Fallis, and Col Curtis Marsh. In her post-residency, Devin recalls learning from such esteemed peers as S. Jay Bowman, DMD, MSD; CDR Rebecca Ortenzio Lee; CDRs Rachel and Michael Mooney; CAPT Scott Curtice; and Raoul Santos.
A Different Role
When Devin was 23 and in dental school, she entered into a conversation with a classmate about the Miss USA pageant that had just aired on television. Her friend mentioned that the woman who received second runner-up was a dental student from North Carolina. It was then that the friend asked Devin if she’d ever consider competing in a pageant, noting that her personality would be great on stage.
“A guy sitting next to us and listening in, chimed in and told me all the ways I wouldn’t be able to win,” Devin recalls. “I thought, ‘Really? Watch me.’”
Motivated to succeed, Devin signed up for the Miss Nevada USA pageant and won first runner-up—a feat that is almost unheard of for first-time contestants.
“I was blown away by how much preparation I had to do in order to compete,” she explains. “I didn’t really catch the bug until 2 years later after I graduated from dental school. It was then that I won Miss Nevada in the United States system.”
The most captivating thing about competing in pageants, according to Devin, is learning fully about one’s own “personal file,” as she phrases it. Personality elements such as acquiring a firm sense of self, as well as identifying one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and then articulating all that information in front of a panel of judges, are what drew her to continue to compete.
“You have to know how to walk into a room and be relatable to a group of people whom you don’t know,” she explains. “You want to be memorable. That way, when the next 50 or 100 women walk into that same room, the judges will still remember you. I don’t know a single job where that wouldn’t be a fantastic skill to have.
“Very often, in the military, I walk into rooms where I’m the only female and I have to speak in front of everyone. I’ve had a number of officers tell me, ‘You’ve got 10 minutes, and I say, ‘I only need one.’”
Devin has a focused set of time-management skills that has enabled her to continue her career pursuits, while simultaneously pursuing her career as a contestant in nation-wide beauty pageants.
“I told my professors I wanted to do my dissertation on facial aesthetics of beauty queens,” she recalls. “And, in order to have these women be part of my study, I was going to have to compete. My advisors approved the research, and that’s how I was able to make it credible and relatable to work.”
Beyond the personality preparation, as well as—in Devin’s situation, the academic preparation—there was also the physical preparation that had to be addressed before competing. “I’m in better shape when I train for a pageant than I am before any military fitness test,” she notes. “I have a lot of guy friends in the military who argue the military fitness test is more intense. I always reply and say: ‘Hey! You put on a bikini and walk across a stage and be judged by thousands of people, and then tell me which one is harder to train for.’”
It’s interesting to note that Devin’s dental and orthodontic career achievements are dotted with her success in pageantry. For example, while completing her residency, she won Miss Texas. After she won Miss United States, she took her boards.
“While preparing for Miss United States, as well as preparing for my boards, I would wake at 4:30 each morning to study so that I could get an extra hour in,” she recalls. “Like anything in life, if something is important to you and you make it a priority, you’ll find a way to make it work,” Devin adds. “Early on, I realized that as long as I did my job for the Navy and kept my pageant director in the loop, it all worked out really nicely, albeit with an average of 6 hours of sleep per night.”
Then, in the summer of 2014, prior to completing her tour in Japan, Devin won Miss Galaxy 2014.
Currently, Devin is taking time off from pageant competition, and is working to propel her orthodontic career. She recently became the eighth board-certified orthodontist in the US Navy. As she explains, there were a lot of emotions and nerves throughout the process of completing such a task, but, as Devin explains, she’s used to it, thanks to pageantry and being a member of the US military.
“There’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and confidence you get from being in the military,” she notes. “We have a lot of patients who have served for nearly 20 years, or they’ve been on back-to-back deployment, or they’ve lost a limb, and all they want is a beautiful smile. It makes you think: ‘Oh, my gosh! You catch my bullets and all you want is a great smile? I will make that happen.’
“It’s such an empowering feeling to do so much for someone who helps to preserve the life that we all have here in the United States. For me, that’s one of the best things about being a military orthodontist.” OP
A Different Set of Life Lessons
To be sure, LCDR Corinne Devin, DMD, MS, one of only 20 orthodontists in the United States Naval Dental Corps, has found inspiration from both the Navy family she was raised in and the dedicated team of service members—in the States and abroad—she has served with. But it’s interesting to note that many who inspired Devin’s career path thus far just don’t wear combat boots or uniforms. Instead, they don heels and cocktail gowns.
“I won my first national beauty queen title 3 months before I deployed to Iraq,” she explains. “And, while I was deployed, many of the women with whom I competed—even women who were the first runner-up in pageants in which I won—sent me care packages while I was overseas. I realized early on in my pageant career that I had entered into a community of women who treat this more than just a crown on their head.”
Devin notes that fellow contestants have opened their homes to her; they’ve helped her locate residences upon returning from deployment, and have, overall, served as a family outside of her military backing.
“It’s really quite funny when you meet other women and they’re complaining about high heels, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve been in combat boots in Iraq for the last 8 months. This actually feels great to be wearing heels again—to feel like a woman.’
“The fact that I’m around guys all day long, and around different personalities and ranking, you have to learn how to work together. In pageants, it’s no different,” Devin adds. “You have to learn to be relatable and adapt and be understanding of different cultural backgrounds.
“I’ve had to justify this experience to the Navy. To many, it seems like a bunch of silly women on stage. But my constant reply is ‘It’s more than just that. It’s tradition. It’s service. It’s camaraderie. We may not wear combat boots and khakis, but we wear a different uniform; we have to be professional, appropriate, and strategic in what we say. How is that any different from the Navy?’” OP
Lori Sichtermann is a freelance writer for Orthodontic Products. She can be reached at [email protected].