Hear from Practitioners

One Dental Hygienist's Path to Increasing Access to Dental Care

Posted by Kelli C. Johnson, RDH, B.A.S. on June 15, 2016

What if you could provide dental care to the underserved community on a grander scale? Kelli C. Johnson, RDH, B.A.S., does just that as a dental program manager for AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia. Working together with corporate dental teams, Ms. Johnson is able to establish fresh initiatives geared towards providing dental care to an increasing number of children and adults with Medicaid insurance. Ms. Johnson recently sat down with the ADEA GoDental team to enlighten us about the multifaceted world of dental insurance and how her career path began in dental hygiene.

ADEA GoDental (GD): What initially led you to a career in dental hygiene?

Kelli C. Johnson (KJ): I always knew that I wanted to work in the medical professions and help people. During my freshman year of undergrad college I worked as a front desk coordinator in a dental office and the dental hygienist mentored me into that area of the dental professions.

(GD): How did you first learn about your current position as an option within the dental hygiene profession?

(KJ): I found my position on LinkedIn.com—or you could say the position found me—while I was working as a program manager for a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). For five years, I managed a mobile dental program which provided preventive dental care to approximately 2,500 children per year. One day, I was looking around on LinkedIn and came across the job posting for AmeriHealth. The next day, I applied for the position and now here I am.

(GD): What does a typical day in your current position entail?

(KJ): There are over 325 dental providers in the AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia network. These amazing dental teams provide dental care for Medicaid participating children and adults in the District of Columbia. I work on plan initiatives with the corporate dental team aimed at increasing the number of members who receive dental care. 

(GD): What skills or personality traits would you say someone looking to obtain a similar role should hold?

(KJ): Qualifying personality traits include the desire to help others, commitment to getting the job done right the first time, patience, being customer focused, introspective and quality- oriented. Then again, these are the skills I believe one would expect to find in most dental hygienists. 

(GD): What is your favorite part about being in your current role, and why?

(KJ): I love working with people who have a passion for providing for the underserved!

(GD): What motivated you to continue your education beyond the entry level?

(KJ): I had several brilliant and tenacious mentors who encouraged me to complete my bachelor’s degree. One of these mentors was my father, who never had the opportunities I did and always wanted more for his daughter. I also knew early on that possessing an advanced degree would allow for additional career opportunities.

(GD): How did your dental hygiene education help you prepare for your career?

(KJ): My dental education taught me how to be a prevention specialist. In my opinion, no one knows dental disease prevention better than a dental hygienist. I learned case management, time management and communication skills that have been carried on through my diverse path.

(GD): What is one thing you wish you knew about your current position before starting out?

(KJ): How much I would love it! I left an amazing position at Suncoast Community Health Centers (an FQHC in Tampa, Florida) to accept this position. Although I felt it was the right move, I had no idea how much I would enjoy my job and the amazing people I work with on a daily basis.

(GD): If you could give one piece of advice to dental hygiene students considering a role similar to yours, what would it be?

(KJ): Never stop learning. I strive to learn something new every day! I am like a sponge. When I hear something that inspires me, I write it down. I also try and surround myself with people who are smart, kind and encouraging, just as I strive to be the same type of influence for others.


About Kelli C. Johnson, RDH, B.A.S. :

Kellie Johnson

Kelli C. Johnson, RDH, B.A.S.
Dental Program Manager 
AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia

Born and raised in south Mississippi, Kelli C. Johnson, RDH, B.A.S., began her dental hygiene career at Pensacola State College with an Associate of Science in 1998. Ms. Johnson has had a very diverse career in dental hygiene ranging from 14 years of clinical dental hygiene to her current role in Washington, DC. She has also had the opportunity to live and work as a dental hygienist in Switzerland, which fueled her love to travel. Ms. Johnson is passionate about advancing the profession and feels excited about the future of dental hygiene.