Nothing happens in our comfort zone: The tale about the two hygienists

Feb. 13, 2018
Elicia Lupoli, RDH, profiles the two dental hygienists behind the A Tale of Two Hygienists podcasts.

By Elicia Lupoli, RDH, BSDH

In dental hygiene, there are devoted individuals who respect the licensure they worked so hard to obtain and also refrain from publicly bashing the profession. The decision to showcase a few of the most successful dental hygienists was in hope for readers to understand that the journey to success is achievable, with a bit of footwork. Dental hygienists have demonstrated over and over again that (together) we can do anything.

This week, I offer a glimpse into the careers of Michelle Strange, RDH, and Andrew Johnston, RDH, who are famous as the podcasters of “The Tale of Two Hygienists.”

In recent weeks, I profiled Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, a mother of a large Wisconsin family who yearned for something more from her career, and Angie Stone, RDH, who found a niche in improving elder care in our nation’s nursing home.

I will introduce you to the other dental hygiene pioneers in upcoming issues of RDH eVillage.

Opposites attract listeners!

Initial footwork taken by Michelle and Andrew: Striving to learn more and giving back to communities.

A Tale of Two Hygienists podcasters, Michelle Strange and Andrew Johnston state, “Dental hygiene is exciting to be in right now; everything has evolved.”

During their hunt for “more” out of their careers, they found each other through a Facebook group and now are one of the leaders in podcasts for the dental hygiene profession. In fact, they were voted the most popular podcast by dental professionals two years in a row.

What made them start a podcast, and who are they?

Andrew Johnston, RDH, BSBM (currently enrolled to complete his MBA), was first licensed in 2009 and is a restorative dental hygienist in Washington State.

Andrew said, “Don’t write that. We are called dental hygienists; it’s within the scope of our normal hygiene license.” As modest as he is, Andrew has done many wonderful things that deserve mentioning. He can place restorations as a hygienist in both permanent and primary dentitions, for all surface types (think GV Black's classifications), and with all restorative materials. He can place restorations in primary teeth as a dental hygienist. His treatment of those patients lightens the load for the dentist and the dental team. In areas of need, a restorative hygienist allows for easier access to dental care while keeping operating costs down for the dental clinic. Andrew provides this service for patients in his state as well as internationally as well as on mission trips.

In 2012, Andrew started lecturing on "Charitable Dentistry." His goal was for professionals to see the value in doing mission trips as a way to serve and also to feel good about their professional abilities. He went on to lecture at dental meetings and learned that speaking from a podium wasn’t for him. There was still something lacking. Naturally shy and introverted in public, his values for helping others and education would become the basis for his connection to Michelle and to start A Tale of Two Hygienists in 2015.

Michelle Strange, RDH, MSDH, was licensed in 2005. Michelle’s initial desire was to become a dental hygiene professor, which is why she completed her master’s degree.

“In 2008, my body was already not loving what I was doing,” she said. “I intended to teach full time. For my master’s thesis I researched, “The adequacy of oral hygiene for critically-ill patients,”looking at the need for dental hygienists in the hospital setting. This opened my eyes for collaboration within the medical field. After presenting my research at ADHA, I saw the need for networking and professional collaboration in order to see RDHs expand.”

Michelle had also been impacted by one of her patients to do more. “I was always educating my patients. One day, I was reviewing oral care instructions with a patient I had seen before. He told me I should get a job with the company that made the interproximal brushes I was instructing him on. In 2013, I went online and sent my resume to TePe Oral Healthcare, Inc. As luck would have it, they needed someone for the east coast. I have been with them ever since.”

A lesson here is to go out and get what you want. The dental hygienist who educates and advocates for their patients, actively researching and implementing products and modalities that elicit positive outcomes in patients’ oral health are the experts. Inquire about opportunities within these companies, such as writing for them, educating at a trade show exhibit, or consulting for their product line.

They eventually connected, even though they knew each other from social media.

Andrew said he met Michelle at the “Chicago Midwinter. We had already begun the podcast but hadn’t officially met.”

Michelle added, “I am driven by education. In 2014, I was listening to podcasts and stumbled upon the few dental podcasts that were out there. There wasn’t much that pertained to dental hygiene, and I felt that was missing. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a podcast?’ I joined a dental podcast group about the same time that Andrew had. He saw my picture on a mission trip and my activity on a group and reached out to me. We talked about why we were in the same group to begin with, and I knew I wanted a partner in crime if I were to have a podcast. Neither of us wanted to do the podcast alone.”

Andrew said, “We share a drive and passion for CE, education, and mission trips. That is about as much as we are alike”.

Andrew credits Karen Siebert, RDH, BSDH, MA, for her role as a mentor during the start of his career. But he added, “It’s hard to single out one mentor. We have been so lucky with many helping hands. Angie Stone helped me so much. When I first started speaking and lecturing, if I messed up, she was always there to help. And Karen Siebert has opened many doors for us and really helped us make the initial connections.”

Michelle said she needed to make personal adjustments during her start with her carer.

“I take on too much,” she said. “I am too passionate, super passionate, and I will take anything on. It is good, but also a hindrance. I can’t put my all into one thing and make it super great when I do too many things. Plus, I am too dogmatic sometimes. I don’t want people messing with things sometimes, although I know I need to let it go once in a while.”

I asked them about what advice would they give to new graduates and dental hygienists who may feel stuck or isolated.

Michelle replied, “New grads, Take care of yourself. If you feel burned out, handle it. If feeling achy or sore, buy the things you need to buy. Do the exercises you need to do. It is like we always preach this to our patients. ‘Take care of yourself,’ but do we? I guess practice what you preach! And for those who feel stuck: You need to prevent burnout. There is a level of clarity and self-awareness that you need. Ask yourself, ‘Do I like where I am? Do I like what I am doing?’ I love my job. I love my podcasts and writing, but it gets exhausting and I have to check in with myself and ask if I like who and where I am a lot.”

Andrew added his advice, “Never stop learning and keep going to get those unique CEs you can. Don’t stay at home. Diligently seek out new things and CE. And those who feel isolated, a change of scenery is what you need, like a mission trip or going international. That recharges me.”

Michelle disagreed with an assertion that most hygienists cannot afford the charity trips. “Not having a dime to your name is a terrible excuse. I didn’t have any extra money for my first three trips but I raised it; I got out of my box and asked people. I held online auctions and fundraisers. I got creative!”

A few things to know about these podcasters … The first episode was October 2015 and, as of January 2018, they are on episode #102. The podcast has partnered up with CE Zoom to offer listeners CE certificates. For more information on how to obtain credits for listening, head over to their podcast show notes. (CE Zoom) is an amazing company started by two dental hygienists and it’s free to register.

Elicia Lupoli, RDH, BSDH, is on the editorial board for RDH magazine and Hygienetown, as well as an editor for her state association’s quarterly newsletter (ADHA Connecticut). Elicia attributes the start of her writing career to Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, and other success to her many mentors.