University of Florida

Student Story: Uncovering a Career in Health Education

Career in Health EducationThough Lexi Williams only recently became aware of the health education field, she has always loved learning about the body. In the process of earning her bachelor’s in biology, she completed a course in nutrition and was excited about the practicality of the topic. This led to her pursuit of a second bachelor’s in nutrition and desire to continue on to a graduate-level program.

As a current student in the online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior, Williams is able to immediately put her learnings to use in her role as a fitness and wellness coordinator at Rice University.

“I use the models and frameworks we have talked about in class to create new wellness programs and enhance current ones at work. I take a more evidence-based practice approach to my work now and it has helped me create more effective programs,” she says.

Below, Williams shares her passion for health education, how thankful she is for coming across the M.S. in HEB program, and her plans after graduation.

Describe your professional and educational background. How did you become interested in the health education field?
I didn’t know about the health education field until a few years ago. While getting my bachelor’s degree in nutrition, I worked on the renal floor at a hospital educating patients on what they could and could not eat. I would see the same people come back time after time. In the hospital’s controlled environment, they would get better because they would only be able to eat foods that were good for them. When they went home, they ate whatever they wanted, which would lead them to getting sick and being admitted to the hospital again. This is when I knew I wanted to work in health prevention.
After that experience, I also started looking into physical activity and started working as a personal trainer. This experience really affirmed my decision to work in prevention and health education. At the time I did not know it was “health education.” I was just sharing what I knew about topics to help my clients. It was not until I started looking at job descriptions like “wellness coordinator” and “health specialist” that I began to realize health education is an actual field.

What three health education issues and topics are you most passionate about?
I am very interested in health behaviors, behavior change, and perceptions of health status. We have all heard that we need to eat vegetables, exercise, and drink water. In my experience many people know what behaviors they “should” do, but they do not know how to implement them.

What are your professional goals?
After graduation I intend to apply for Ph.D. programs. I am looking into programs for health psychology and health behaviors. I want to be a professor at a university. This program affirmed how much a supportive teacher or mentor can affect your life and I want to be able to do that for others.

I am also very interested in researching health behaviors and creating programs or interventions for implementation. I intend to explore the intersections of social cognitive theory and identity based motivation! My goal is to find a way to balance a career in academia while working in the industry. I think it is important to share what I learn with the public.

Tell me about your research study as well as your work with Dr. McVay and Dr. Bartley.
I work with Dr. McVay and Dr. Bartley on the EMPOWER study (Empowering the Management of Pain-Obesity-Weight through Enhanced Reward). The EMPOWER study is a single-arm pilot study that examines the feasibility of an integrated pain and weight management intervention. I led the first intervention group and learned about how pain and weight management is connected. It has also been interesting to explore the technical side of research. I have helped edit the intervention protocols as well. Now my role is shifting and I am writing more. I am very excited about this because my professional writing needs work!

What drew you to the online M.S. in HEB program at the University of Florida? Has the program lived up to your expectations?
I started looking at UF because I really liked how the dietetic internship program incorporated health behaviors. I stumbled upon the HEB program by accident. I looked into the classes and what this program was about, and I was like, “This is it! This is what I’m getting my master’s in.” I did a lot of research into the program and the faculty, and I was extremely excited. I reached out to the department for more information and applied in 2020 but did not get in. I was a little discouraged but I took that time to improve myself as an applicant. I knew UF was where I wanted to be. I reached out to faculty to see what they were looking for in students and what type of students thrive in their program.

I really don’t know where I would be without Dr. Moses. She has been supporting me since before I was even in the program. I reached out to her and we had a call. I asked so many questions, and after we got off the phone, I cried. I felt so supported and I was not even her student. I spent the next two semesters improving myself as an applicant, and I started the program in summer 2021.

This program has surpassed my expectations. I love all the classes I have taken and the support from the faculty is phenomenal. I am so grateful to be in this program. Every professor wants to see you succeed, and they want you to understand the material. I feel like they are just as invested in my growth as I am, and that is an amazing feeling.

What has the online learning experience been like for you?
I have really thrived in the online environment. I love the flexibility and the autonomy. The faculty also make an excellent effort to connect with us. We email, hop on Zoom or even call. This is helpful when I have questions, and not just about class but about next steps or anything really.

What is your favorite course that you have completed so far?
This one is hard but I will say Theories of Health Behavior and Practice with Dr. Murphy. That class was so fun for me! I learned more about theory constructs and became more familiar with social cognitive theory.

How has the program helped you in your current role? How has it shaped your career approach?
The projects we do directly translate to my role as a fitness and wellness coordinator. I use the models and frameworks we have talked about in class to create new wellness programs and enhance current ones at work. I take a more evidence-based practice approach to my work now, and it has helped me create more effective programs.

What advice would you give others who are considering this program?
The program requires a fair amount of time and time management skills. Everything you learn you will apply in projects and the skills you develop will translate into your career. I highly recommend the program and to reach out to current students or faculty for more information.

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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