University of Florida

Award-Winning M.S. in HEB Alumna Shares Her Experiences

Master of Science in Health Education and BehaviorGina De Sanctis, now-graduate of the Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior (HEB) program at the University of Florida, and teammate Liz Leja are this year’s winners of the National Case Study Competition in Health Education™ (NCSCHE™). A maximum of 50 teams, including 30 undergraduate and 20 graduate, join the competition each year, and are given three weeks to develop a plan to solve a real-life issue. Students must demonstrate mastery of the Eight Areas of Responsibility defining the role of a health education specialist (NCHEC, 2020). The competition culminates in a presentation to a panel of judges.

The 2021 community health issue of focus was breastfeeding disparities in a rural Louisiana county. De Sanctis and Leja researched the issue, community, and potential solutions to create a fitting intervention and evaluation plan. Based on an analysis of the county’s community health needs assessment, demographics, and available resources, they developed a low-cost approach.

De Sanctis and Leja called on the knowledge and skills gained during their studies in the HEB master’s program to develop the behavioral intervention. In particular, the Theories of Health Behavior & Practice course was helpful in providing options for them to choose a theory to guide their intervention. They were also able to create a logic model to provide a visual overview of their program, which they learned how to complete during their time in the Planning Health Education Programs course.

Due to coronavirus, De Sanctis, originally in the residential M.S. in HEB program, found her courses and club meetings moved online. She became familiar with communicating virtually and collaborating through shared Google Documents, which was also useful in the competition. De Sanctis and Leja used Zoom to meet and pull together their Google Slides presentation, and it was also the platform utilized to present to the judges.

Along with receiving the NCSCHE™ award, De Sanctis was named the Health Education and Behavior 2021 Master’s Student of the Year. Students are nominated for the honor based on education, experiences, and skills. She credits the UF Department of Health Education & Behavior with helping her develop her expertise in a number of ways, including opportunities for research, internships, and volunteering.

De Sanctis also held membership in and served as president for the Eta Sigma Gamma (ESG) Alpha Lambda Chapter, an honor society focused on promoting health education. Due to the pandemic, ESG events and activities were moved to a virtual platform. This included Sex in the Swamp, the annual ESG event focused on the promotion of health sexuality, deemed a success in its first time ever held remotely.

Overall, De Sanctis had a terrific experience in the program, saying, “The M.S. in HEB program is a great way to gain first-hand experience planning and evaluating health education programs, which helps prepare individuals for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) exam. And the faculty and staff in the Department of Health Education and Behavior truly care about helping you grow as a professional.”

De Sanctis is also an alum of the UF HEB B.S. program. While completing her undergraduate courses, she decided to continue on to her master’s in order to gain a greater understanding of key health education topics and further prepare herself for a career in health education and promotion. Through a combined degree program option, she was able to earn graduate credits as an undergraduate student to shorten the time and credits in the M.S. program.

The diagnosis of several family members with serious health conditions, including Lupus and Alzheimer’s disease, was what drew De Sanctis to the field.

“I heard their confusion and worries about their condition and treatment, which motivated me to become part of this field. I wanted to be able to help individuals, like my family members, understand their health and lead healthier lifestyles,” she says.

Along with her interest in chronic health issues, De Sanctis also believes it is crucial for all health professionals to be familiar with health equity. She has aspirations of one day working for a governmental health agency.

About the Online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida

The University of Florida’s online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior (HEB) was developed by CHES® and MCHES® faculty to prepare students for careers in clinical and non-clinical settings. Developed around the areas of responsibility laid out by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, the curriculum builds the knowledge that professionals need to plan, implement and evaluate programs for health education and promotion. To ensure HEB students are positioned for success, the program requires that all students sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) Exam.

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