What can you do with a Health Professions Education Graduate Certificate?

“I’m proud to have received this certificate from UConn. I think having a formal background in education, particularly health professions education, is helpful….  I think it’s just opened my eyes to the possibilities that are available. The science of learning is hugely fascinating from multiple perspectives. And I think having this background gives me an advantage for working with others in a field that’s dynamic and always changing.” — Ashlee Mattutini, Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Summer 2023


Ashlee MattutiniTeaching the Next Generation of Nurses

As a Family Nurse Practitioner, Ashlee Mattutini is passionate about educating nurses. Recognizing the dynamic, ever-changing domain of healthcare education, she was interested in strengthening her teaching skills through formal teaching education. Having now completed the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Ashlee is excited to empower the next generation of nurses to work smarter and kinder.

With many competing professional responsibilities, Ashlee has a lot on her plate. In addition to pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at UConn, she works full-time as a Family Nurse Practitioner at The Center for Pediatric Medicine, and she also teaches as an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the nurse practitioner programs for a local college. In the midst of applying for her DNP, Ashlee discovered the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program at UConn. “When I applied at UConn for my Doctor of Nursing Practice, I came across the certificate program while I was researching. I knew nothing about it prior, but I’ve always wanted to gain some more formal teaching education. There’s always learning in healthcare; it’s lifelong learning. One of my concerns over the years has been that so many in healthcare have no background in education. I really felt that gaining a background in education would help me in multiple aspects of my career.” 

This was a fortuitous discovery for Ashlee: The certificate program aligned perfectly with her career aspirations. “I feel like I’ve been on this trajectory all these years. I’ve always wanted to teach formally and teach academically. In fact, once I complete the DNP program, one of my goals is to obtain a faculty academic teaching position. My goal is to balance clinical work with academic work, and try to get the best of both fields of nursing.” So while simultaneously juggling her DNP program and other responsibilities, Ashlee began the 3-course, 9-credit certificate program in September of 2002, completing her last course in summer 2023.

“Nurses eat their young”

Growing up amongst a family of educators, Ashlee has always been oriented toward the importance of education. But it was her growing awareness of a culture of hostility among nurses that activated her to seek out better ways to individualize teaching for the nurses she was precepting. As Ashlee explains, “When I went into nursing, I was an ICU nurse before I became a nurse practitioner. I really saw firsthand that whole ‘nurses eat their young,’ where nurses who are supposed to be caring so much for their patients are not able to be as considerate to their own colleagues. It’s a phenomenon that’s out there, and there are multiple reasons for it. As I was orienting new nurses and precepting nursing students, I really started thinking that there’s got to be a better way to encourage and to teach the next generation of nurses. Any little thing that we can do to help make it more positive for upcoming nurses and for nursing students is extremely beneficial.” 

So even before beginning the program, Ashlee was experimenting with how to adapt her teaching to the needs of her nursing students. “I just tried to really learn how the nurses I was working with would best gain better knowledge. Were they more hands-on? Did they have to talk things out more? Did they need to ask a lot of questions? And I just started realizing that everyone has a different way of learning, and the more you can recognize that, then the more successful you will be in teaching them. I did this informally before I even knew a program like this existed.”

The demands of educating nurses while simultaneously caring for patients are challenging. As Ashlee explains, “I worked in a busy ICU, so you have a lot of fast-paced things happening almost at the same time. Trying to educate the most effectively and efficiently was important, because you really couldn’t waste time, and you really wanted them to understand and learn certain procedures or certain patterns of pathophysiology in the fastest time possible so they could recognize signs of a patient deteriorating, etc. I really felt like we needed more efficiency in that respect.” Ashlee recognized that the knowledge she would gain in the certificate program would greatly enhance her capacity to teach more effectively under such demands.  

Expanding brainpower immensely through feedback

According to Ashlee, one of the biggest highlights of the program was learning from Dr. Thomas Van Hoof. “I just want to highlight Dr. Van Hoof’s dedication to the program and to students individually. He is often available; he is ready and willing to help you. The feedback that he gives is timely and thoughtful: You’re not just handing in a paper and getting a grade back. He’s actually commenting and giving you perspectives outside of the box, and that just expands your brainpower immensely. The theorists and the other writers that Dr. Van Hoof included in the readings were completely appropriate. Many were education related to health, but some were general education for adult learners, learning about different types of pedagogies, etc. He ties in so much learning science. There’s so much fascinating science out there – whether it’s psychological, sociological, behavior economics, sociocultural, socioeconomics – so much comes in to educating others. There are so many different factors: Learning is multifactorial.” 

Diversity of perspectives adds value

The opportunity to interact with her peers via the weekly online Zoom discussions was particularly valuable for Ashlee. “We could see everybody, and we all were able to discuss our projects and then give feedback or ideas. We were able to ask each other for suggestions. And then we were also able to critique the readings that we had. One of the readings was a classic, from 1938; others were more contemporary. It was interesting to see what could still be applied today with online learning. It was a very integrative experience.”

What made this experience especially meaningful for Ashlee was the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives her peers brought to the metaphorical table. “We really learned a lot from each other because we are all from different settings: There were some medical residents and medical fellows, and there were nurses, but nurses from so many different backgrounds. We had some NICU nurses, some medical-surge nurses, inpatient, outpatient, nurse practitioners, etc. There was a pharmacist too. Just having those perspectives added a lot of value to the program. It’s lifelong learning in the healthcare professions.” 

Insight: Learning is interactive and bidirectional

A powerful insight that Ashlee is carrying away with her is that learning happens best through interaction. “We were taught that learning is not just a one-way relationship between the educator and the student. It’s really a process that happens best where there’s interaction and communication – when both parties can engage and participate. Learning is bidirectional and that’s the only way that the student and the educator are going to reach their full potential. I add the educator in there because the educator is always learning too. There’s nothing stagnant in learning. Even in anatomy and physiology, we’re still learning different capacities that the body has. Really nothing is stagnant in healthcare education.” Ashlee was guided by this insight in the implementation of one of her final projects.

Multifaceted plan: Making learning relevant

For each of the three courses (evaluation, planning, implementation), students apply their learning to the design of a final project. Ashlee feels fortunate that she was able to implement the project that she designed over her first two courses (NURS 5700 - Health Professions Education: Evaluation and NURS 5710 - Health Professions Education: Planning). Her project was designed to address the problem of disinterest among her nursing students: “I had been noticing over the years that students tend to withdraw when they are faced with a topic that they have to learn but have no interest in pursuing. For example, I work in pediatrics, and I precept a lot of family nurse practitioner students. These are nurses who are going for their Master’s degree to gain certification as a nurse practitioner. A lot of these students had no experience in pediatrics and/or did not foresee themselves pursuing pediatrics. So when they would come to me, they were very disinterested. They just wanted to get through it. I was getting frustrated, because I put a lot of time into it, and these are still things that they need to learn, not just to pass their exams, but because a lot of this stuff that you learn in the family system can carry over to multiple other parts of nursing.”

Eye-opening: Relevance aids retention

The process of designing and implementing her multifaceted plan opened Ashlee’s eyes to connection between relevance and retention of knowledge. As she explains, “Dr. Van Hoof, and then in the second semester Dr. Carol Polifroni, actually helped me put together a multifaceted plan that would really make students aware of other ways that this knowledge could be helpful and benefit their careers. That was eye-opening to me, because I really just thought, ‘Oh, they need to learn this; they have to know this; this is so important in pediatrics that if they don’t know this then that’s going to cause a major problem.’ But what I learned – this is very substantial for me – is that if you can tie in certain knowledge to other applicable parts of your career or your life, then you’re more likely to retain it. You’re more likely to be interested in it, so then you’re more likely to utilize in it in other aspects going forward. And I was able to witness that with two of my students during that semester. That was fascinating to me.”

Coupling clinical with academic learning

One key aspect of Ashlee’s multifaceted plan was to build connections between what students were learning in the classroom and what she emphasized in their clinical preceptorship at the pediatric practice. “I started with a needs assessment, just to determine their background and what they wanted to know, what they thought they should learn, etc. Then I coupled their learnings with what they were learning in class. Let’s say a newborn with an abnormal head shape. If they were learning about that in class, then I would augment that in clinical preceptorship. I would pull out patients for them to see, and we would come up with a whole assessment: how we would assess them, what we would look for, and then how we would manage, how we would treat, and who we would refer to. So just coupling what they were learning in class with what they were seeing in clinical helped to solidify some of that knowledge in those synapses – instead of them going to class, learning one thing, seeing a million different things in clinical, and not being able to tie it all in.”

Communicating frequently to match interests

Ashlee carried forward her insight that learning happens best through interaction: Ongoing communication was key to the implementation of Ashlee’s project. Through back-and-forth communication, Ashlee was able to build connections between students’ interests and what they were tasked with learning. “I touched base with them frequently, with a lot of communication, such as, ‘Where do you think your strengths are? Where are your weaknesses? How could this help you going forward?’ If they had no interest in pediatrics, I’d shift to ‘Okay let’s look at this chronic patient with spina bifida from the parents’ perspective. What challenges do the parents have? How could we help augment those services and help with those challenges?’ That was actually more helpful than I imagined, because the students were able to empathize with the parents. Then, in doing so, they were able to visualize the patients’ needs better. It’s really just viewing from different perspectives and communicating back and forth, and teaching the students, ‘This is something that you can use in your adult practice. Or this is something that you can use in acute care.’ Really just giving them the full picture was helpful.”

Empowering nurses to work smarter

As she prepares to graduate with her DNP in May, Ashlee is excited by the possibilities. She feels the knowledge she’s gained in this certificate program has empowered her to creatively adapt and grow in the dynamic domain of healthcare education. “I’m proud to have received this certificate from UConn. I think having a formal background in education, particularly health professions education, is helpful whether it be in continuing education, whether it be in an academic setting, whether it be for undergraduate or graduate students, or whether it be for nurses or medical assistants. I think it’s just opened my eyes to the possibilities that are available. The science of learning is hugely fascinating from multiple perspectives. And I think having this background gives me an advantage for working with others in a field that’s dynamic and always changing.” 

What especially excites Ashlee is the ways this new knowledge will enable her teaching to have greater impact on the nurses she teaches. “Just the knowledge of being able to give appropriate feedback and to really influence others in a positive way, whether it be nurses that you’re working with clinically or students that you’re working with academically, that positive encouragement can really go a long way in terms of empowering individuals to work smarter and be successful in their job. I think having all this knowledge is giving me more creative ways to make teaching more fluid.”


“I think having this one-year certificate program on my resume was really helpful as an added qualification to show that I can teach in a thoughtful, evidence-based way. It was really a wonderful opportunity for professional development.”  — Jessica Zuo, M.D., Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Summer 2023


Jessica Zuo

Learning to Design and Assess Curriculum

While completing her medical training, Dr. Jessica Zuo knew she was interested in including medical education as part of her career. She recognized that pursuing additional formal training would be beneficial in helping her successfully achieve that goal. The Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program at the University of Connecticut (UConn) was exactly what she was looking for. Recently stepping into her new role as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Jessica says this program better prepared her to design and assess curriculum for her medical trainees.

A fortunate find

After completing her internal medicine residency at the University of Pennsylvania, Jessica relocated to Connecticut, where she continued her postgraduate training as a geriatric medicine fellow, then as a clinician-educator fellow at Yale University. The second fellowship enabled her to pursue additional training to further develop her capacity as a medical educator. This is when Jessica discovered UConn’s Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program. Jessica explains, “Because I knew I was very interested in medical education and in having that as part of my career, I did a second year of fellowship called a Clinician-Educator Fellowship. I had a lot of flexibility during this fellowship year to pursue specific development for myself as a future medical educator, and I had a bit of funding to pursue some additional training. So I looked around at some different options and was very fortunate to find the UConn program through a web search.” Beginning the 3-course, 9-credit program in fall 2022, Jessica completed her final course in summer 2023. 

Participating across the distance

For Jessica, the convenience of meeting virtually was a key strength of the program. “Even though I was in Connecticut at the same time, I wasn’t actually at UConn or affiliated with UConn other than through the certificate program. So to be able to call in through Zoom and meet other students virtually was really great.”

The benefit of being able to participate regardless of geographical distance became all the more relevant by the end of the program. As Jessica explains, “I actually ended up moving to Pennsylvania from Connecticut while I was still in the process of completing the program. And another student in the class moved all the way out to the West Coast. So overall, I think it was beneficial to have done everything virtually so that I could still remain involved, and so that other student could remain involved.” 

Interdisciplinary perspective-taking

The opportunity to learn alongside an interprofessional cohort representing a variety of disciplines was a highlight for Jessica. “One of the things that really appealed to me was the fact that the program is inherently interdisciplinary. Especially as a geriatrician, we really prize the fact that we are working with people in different disciplines. I was really excited to have that opportunity. In my cohort, there were some internal medicine residents, so there were other physicians, but then a good portion of the other students were in the nursing field at different levels. So it was really interesting to be able to hear about the perspectives that they had in contrast to my perspective as a physician. “ 

The weekly synchronous Zoom discussions created the perfect opportunity to learn with and from the perspectives of her peers. “During our class session, every Thursday evening, we would have a little more than an hour of time together to have discussion. So those were the times where I would hear about some of the projects that other students were doing, some thoughts they had about the readings, or other things that came up as part of the discussion.”

Transparency of rationale matters

There were several aspects of Dr. Thomas Van Hoof’s teaching style that Jessica admires and plans to incorporate into her own teaching practices. “He is really great at practicing the principles that he’s teaching. For instance, being open about the specific rationale behind things that he’s asking us to do – and also recommending certain things that would help with strengthening our learning, as a way to really demonstrate for us why these things we’ve studied actually do work. For him to be very transparent with what he was doing and the rationale, that was helpful for me as an adult learner to realize, ‘Oh, being really clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it really is helpful.’ So that’s something that I’m trying to incorporate.” 

Generating ideas through in-depth feedback

In preparation for their weekly discussions, students would complete assigned readings and submit written assignments to their instructor, who would then provide feedback. Jessica values the depth of feedback she received and the opportunities that evoked. “One of the big things that I really appreciated about Dr. Van Hoof was that he would respond to a lot of specific details within the writing assignments I submitted, so it opened up opportunity to correspond even further through email about specific questions or ideas that were generated from some of his comments.” 

While Dr. Van Hoof typically teaches all three courses in the program, he was on sabbatical for one semester, so one of Jessica’s courses was taught by his colleague who helped him develop the program, Dr. Carol Polifroni. Jessica also appreciated learning from Dr. Polifroni: “While I think that Dr. Van Hoof is a really wonderful teacher, I think it was nice to see a different style. I think Dr. Polifroni was helpful in certain critiques of the writings I was submitting to push me a little bit more in terms of what I was thinking about some of the readings and the project that I was working on for that semester. I thought both were very approachable and really good teachers.”

Learning how to think about designing curriculum

While earning this certificate was not a prerequisite, Jessica recognized that pursuing additional formal training would better prepare her for success as an educator. She was especially interested in learning how to think about designing curriculum for her future students. “While a lot of medical educators don’t necessarily have specific training in health professions education, I recognized that having this additional formal training would be really helpful and valuable for me, especially as I think about developing curricula for learners who are in medicine. That was a key part that was very helpful in the courses for this program: learning how to think about developing a curriculum, and how to assess whether your learners are actually learning the things that you’re trying to disseminate through your curriculum.” 

Expanding further on her experiences of the three courses, Jessica adds, “I thought the courses were really great. They were thoughtfully developed with excellent readings and definitely helped give me a good foundation for thinking about designing curriculum for future students. Dr. Van Hoof does a great job of choosing readings that are really key in the education world. He also brings in things that he has authored himself that are written in a very easy-to-digest format.”

Opportunities to flesh out ideas 

Jessica landed her new job while still completing the program. In her new role as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, Jessica divides her time between clinical work and teaching. In terms of her teaching role, she is also co-director of the internal medicine residency program’s Geriatrics and Transitions of Care curricula. Jessica was excited that her final project became an opportunity to get feedback on developing her new curriculum. “Each semester we had a project that we were working on. We used the class as a way to get feedback on the thoughts we had, and we used the readings to inform the decisions that we were making. Knowing the job I was going to be starting, I decided to focus on the Transitions of Care curriculum for my final project, so it was very much applicable. There are certain techniques for classroom teaching that we learned about that I have incorporated into some of the sessions that we’ve done. There is additional evidence from the readings for doing some of the things that I was already thinking about. One of the big strengths of this certificate program is that we are able to take actual projects that we’re working on and use the course to flesh out the ideas and get feedback from Dr. Van Hoof.”

Reflecting on her journey, Jessica adds, “I think having this one-year certificate program on my resume was really helpful as an added qualification to show that I can teach in a thoughtful, evidence-based way. It was really a wonderful opportunity for professional development.”


“The multidisciplinary aspect, having both nurses and physicians in the one class, learning the same concepts that can be applied to both parts of the medical world – that was a big strength. Being able to see the other side and bounce ideas off each other…. One of the biggest things I enjoy about the profession now is that interprofessional relationship, and I think this program helped solidify that.” Ryan Massicotte, Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Summer 2023


Ryan Massicotte RN, BSN is a nurse on the Medicine 3 unit at UConn John Dempsey Hospital, and is a 2022 Nightingale. March 24, 2022

Bridging the Gap Between Nurses and Doctors

As a nursing professional, Ryan Massicotte is acutely aware of the current challenges in the healthcare industry. He believes creating change will require the interprofessional collaboration of doctors and nurses working together. On route to earning his Masters of Nursing Education at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Ryan recently completed the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program. In the process of learning to be a better teacher, this online program has helped lay the foundation for Ryan’s culminating Masters project. His project aims to help bridge the gap between nurses and doctors in ways that will benefit patient experiences and outcomes.

The University of Connecticut has been foundational to Ryan’s entire nursing career. Graduating from UConn with a BS in Nursing in 2017, Ryan has been working for the past six years as a staff nurse on the medical-surgical floor of the John Dempsey Hospital, located within the UConn Health Center. Ryan was President of UConn School of Nursing’s graduating class of 2017, and he has been serving as President of UConn School of Nursing’s Alumni Board since 2021. In 2022, Ryan was named as a recipient of UConn Health’s Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing. As Ryan exclaims, “I am truly a UConn Husky at heart.”

This semester (fall 2023), Ryan will graduate with his MS in Nursing Education from UConn. As an integrated requirement of his Masters program, Ryan also completed UConn’s Health Professions Education Online Certificate program in summer 2023. Ryan is grateful for this requirement: “In hindsight, if this was something completely supplemental that wasn’t required, knowing what I know now about the program, I could see myself going the extra mile to earn this certificate.” 

Instructor “wrote the book”

For Ryan, one of the biggest highlights of the program was learning from Dr. Thomas (Tom) Van Hoof, who taught two of his three courses. “The instructor is definitely the biggest strength of the program. He is a very interesting guy. He’s very intelligent to the Nth degree. The way he talks about some of the topics – the theories and concepts about what we’re learning – it sounds like he wrote the book on them. And then we’ll turn around and do an assigned reading, and we’re like, ‘Oh wait, he did write some of this stuff.’ Very, very intelligent guy, but not to the point where he’s disconnected from laymen. He really knows how to communicate what you need to know to the students. If it was any other instructor, I feel like I might have struggled a little bit more. I think if all my undergraduate or graduate teachers taught in the same fashion that he did, I’d be a 4.0 student ready to go on to a doctorate. I think he definitely made this program.”

Transparency sparked many lightbulb moments

The ways in which Dr. Van Hoof put into practice the concepts they were learning, coupled with providing the rationale behind each decision, inspired many aha moments for Ryan. “The concepts that we were learning made more sense seeing that he put them to work in his own approach to the learning process. The way he prioritized and organized the content, I’m sure other instructors have done that in the past, but because he was drawing attention to that and explaining the rationale behind his decisions, it was a no-brainer. He was very transparent in his decisions and the things that we covered always related to what he was doing on his side of the class, whether it was the way that he was formatting the discussions or giving us assignments. I’ve had a million assignments in nursing school, but knowing how he designed it and why, and what he wanted us to get out of it, just helped keep that lightbulb going off in my head during the program.”

Course design and sequence worked perfectly

Ryan explains that the design and sequence of the courses were perfectly aligned with the aim of learning to teach. “The courses were constructed or designed in a way that made perfect sense to the learning process. What we were required to get out of the program was to learn how to teach essentially. And part of the teaching process was you need to learn how to plan the specific intervention, how to implement that intervention, and how to evaluate the success of your efforts. So that was semester 1, 2, 3. It made a lot of sense being broken up in that fashion. It just worked perfectly the way the topics were divided and conquered in that certain order. And it just seems like a no-brainer as to how the program was designed, but I’m sure there was a lot of thought that went into the rationale behind what they were going to teach, how, and when.” 

Learning to be a great learner

Ryan pursued the program in the interest of learning to be a great teacher, so he was surprised to discover he was simultaneously learning tools to be a great learner too. “There is one thing that occurred to me while taking this course. It’s Health Professions Education, so I’m taking this because I want to educate people, but it’s not just that. We’re learning how learning occurs. I wish a course like this was offered to me very early on in my undergraduate career, because maybe I would have not only paid attention more in school, but participated in active learning, such as setting formative evaluations for myself. All of these methods that go into successful teaching could also help you become a successful learner too. One semester away from my graduate degree, I’m still not the best student. I think this could have definitely helped turn the tide. So I think if you want to learn how to be a great teacher at the same time as learning how to be a great learner, this is a good program for that.”

Reevaluating approach to teaching 

As a preceptor on the medical-surgical floor of a hospital, Ryan has spent a lot of time teaching nursing students. Applying what he learned from the program, he is now reevaluating his approach to teaching with a new lens. “As a nurse on a med-surge floor, specifically at UConn Health, we get a lot of nursing students coming through our floors, whether it’s for their clinical experiences or fundamentals. And we have the accelerated program for nursing coming through our hospital. So there is a lot of time devoted to helping these students learn. I used to think learning was just, ‘Hey this how you do it’ – or learn by doing – but it’s definitely not as easy as that. It’s way more complicated. It just so happened that I was taking these classes while I was precepting nurses for months at a time. So I then had the ability to reconsider my approach. There’s teaching that works for me, and then there’s teaching that works for you – different ways that help someone learn to the best of their ability. So it really gave me the chance to sit down and evaluate how I was approaching teaching as a bedside nurse, because it’s hands-on, but that’s not necessarily the way to go every single time.”

Multidisciplinary discussions: Nurses and doctors learning together

A core component of the program are the weekly synchronous (real-time) online discussions over Zoom. While Ryan expected to recognize other nurses in the certificate program, he was surprised to discover he would be learning alongside doctors too. “The assignments were primarily over email, but the actual class itself was an hour and 15 minutes every Thursday. Leading up to that point, we’d do the reading, we’d submit the assignments, we’d get feedback. And then every Thursday, we’d all hop on a Zoom call, and we’d talk about the important points from the reading. It’s interesting because the first class I hopped on, I had noticed nurses in my nursing program, Masters in Nursing Education. And then I remember recognizing other faces on the Zoom call, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s a resident that works at my hospital. I was just working with him the other day.’”

These live Zoom discussions enabled Ryan to learn more deeply from and with his peers in ways that opened new possibilities for bridging the gap between nurses and doctors. “If Dr. Van Hoof thought it was important, he’d elaborate on something he really wanted to drive home. Then he held an active discussion session, trying to get us to bring up things that we thought were valuable from the reading and how we could use it in our personal areas, nursing or medicine. There would be times when I’d bring something up, and then one of my medical colleagues would be like, ‘I was thinking the same thing. I also saw that in the reading.’ I think it gave us a common leg to stand on. Maybe not a hundred percent, but up until now, nursing is over here, medicine is over here, and every now and then they work together. But I think this really helped bridge that gap and show it as two sides of the same coin, the coin being healthcare.” 

Solidifying interprofessional relationships

This multidisciplinary aspect of the program has proven transformative to Ryan’s interprofessional relationships. “The multidisciplinary aspect, having both nurses and physicians in the one program, learning the same concepts that can be applied to both parts of the medical world – that was a big strength. Being able to see the other side and bounce ideas off each other. It was very interesting working at the UConn Health Center with the doctors that were required to take this. In every single class, there were at least five residents that I’d either had a history with (‘Oh, I haven’t worked with this doctor in like a year’) – or “I just saw this doctor at work this morning.’ So it’s interesting to be able to have that interprofessional relationship.”

Ryan goes on to explain the ways this new sense of familiarity and common ground with physicians at his workplace has enhanced his overall enjoyment of the nursing profession. “I can’t speak for their perspective, but from my perspective, knowing that they’re still learning as they’re expected to go in and do the job, that was very interesting. Because I wasn’t just looking at them as ‘Oh, that’s Dr. So-and-So’ – now it is like, ‘Oh, that’s Dr. Alex (first name basis) and he’s working on a similar project as me.’ It was interesting. One of the biggest things I enjoy about the profession now is that interprofessional relationship, and I think this program helped solidify that.”

Laid foundation for interdisciplinary capstone project

The projects required for each of the three courses have proven pivotal in preparing Ryan to launch his capstone project for his Masters program. “The program was divided up into three different phases: teaching us the ability to plan educational interventions, implement them, and evaluate them. The projects that were involved in these three separate courses were designed in a way that you could either take it as a theoretical project that you might want to do some day, or it could be something that you’re actively trying to achieve in your area, whether it’s medicine or nursing. So when I was doing these projects, it was all around my capstone project for my last semester of my Masters program. These past three semesters of the certificate program have been helping me plan for that.”

There’s a reason Ryan is so enthusiastic about the value of having nurses and doctors learning together: Bridging that gap is central to his planned intervention. As he explains, “My project is going to be surrounding something called Structured Interdisciplinary Bedside Rounding. This intervention will entail having both doctors and nurses at the bedside at the same time, working along with the patient to review details, such as what their plans are for today, what are plans for the admission, what’s standing between them and discharge. This will offer patients the ability to express their concerns or questions, not to just one doctor who showed up at 6:00 AM and woke them up, but with the whole team, because that’s the best way to achieve those goals. So that’s the project. It’s still in its early stages, but I’m way better off designing it now having taken this program.”

Ryan goes on to explain how the program has influenced every aspect of his project planning, implementation, and evaluation processes: “A lot of the effort that’s going into this interdisciplinary project is based off the teachings of Dr. Van Hoof and his program. I’m not just jumping in and saying, ‘Hey I want to do this.’ I’m first doing a needs assessment on my floor: Do I look at metrics and data collected by management? Or do I go and survey the nurses and the patients, and say, ‘What’s our biggest need for change right now?’ And I’m planning the different steps of that process and trying to think about how I’m going to continuously evaluate my intervention, and how I’m going to try to achieve buy-in from people who aren’t necessarily excited about these changes. So having this behind me is preparing me to set up my project in a way that will, hopefully, go smoothly. I mean, there’s no guarantee. And even if it doesn’t, this course has prepared me to evaluate what didn’t go right, how it didn’t go right, and find room for improvement. So I’m looking forward to getting this project off the ground. This program definitely helped lay the foundation.” 

With optimism for what such collaboration interventions could mean for the future, Ryan adds: “Healthcare is very messy in the year 2023. So yeah, we got to clean it up a little bit. But nurses can’t do it by themselves; doctors can’t do it by themselves – but maybe together we could do it.” 

Better prepared for future career possibilities 

As Ryan prepares to graduate from his Masters program in Nursing Education, many new career possibilities are opening for him. While his future direction is yet uncertain, Ryan feels empowered by the knowledge and skills he has learned through this program. “Whether I become a clinical nurse educator, whether I go into clinical simulation, or all the way up the top to adjunct faculty at the school of nursing – all of these ideas, concepts, theories that I got out of this program will definitely help me regardless of what direction I choose. So I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know it’s going to be a lot easier having taken this program.”


“I tell anyone who may be thinking about doing this program that it will help you become a better healthcare provider because you’ll improve your patient and staff education skills. And you’ll become a better learner yourself.” - Krista Roberts, DNP, Health Professions Education Graduate Certificate, Graduate Spring 2020


UConn Online Health Professions graduate Certificate, Krista RobertsOver the past year, Krista Roberts has completed the Health Professions
Education Online Graduate Certificate Program and earned her Doctor
of Nursing Practice degree, all while being a mom of young twins and
working part-time as a Nurse Practitioner.


Benefits Today—and Long Down the Road


When Krista started the University of Connecticut (UConn) Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program in June 2019, her twins were just five years old. At the same time, she was working part-time at a private clinic in Annapolis, Maryland. And she was in the middle of earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree from UConn. She’s also a Navy Reservist. (She was a member of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps from 2009-2014.)

So why would she think it was important to add the nine-credit certificate program to her already full schedule? As Krista explains, “Since I was young, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I felt that the knowledge I would gain from the certificate program would not only help me better understand how to teach future students, it could also pump up my resume.” But why would she need to “pump” up her resume, especially considering that she is a highly experienced Nurse Practitioner who would soon be earning the DNP credential?

Simple, says Krista. Eventually, she wants to work in a university or college setting. “Higher academia tends to prefer hiring PhDs, which are research-focused, over DNPs, which are practice-focused. At the same time, the higher education world wants to see at least nine graduate-level credits in Health Professions Education.”

Applying her new skills daily

While becoming a professor in academia is a long-term goal, Krista says she is already benefiting from having received the certificate. “I am using the skills I learned from the certificate program every day in my job as a Nurse Practitioner,” she notes. She emphasizes that the program has prepared her to better educate her medical assistants in order to help improve care at the Annapolis, Maryland clinic where she works.

Krista also points out that the program introduced her to diverse aspects of learning. For example, she said her professor, Dr. Thomas Van Hoof, talked a great deal about the concept of visible pedagogy. As she explains, “This process is used by instructors to help explain why they are doing what they are doing and why they are encouraging you to learn something. They might say, for instance, ‘We’ll focus on this case study because it will bring together everything we have been talking about over this past week.’ Adult learners like this because they want to know why learning something is important.”

The fact that Dr. Van Hoof led by example was another key reason the program resonated with Krista. “Tom was awesome. He used the skills we were being taught to teach us. He was very responsive and provided excellent feedback.”

Weekly modules worked well

Krista also especially appreciated the weekly module format. When she started the certificate program, she was midway through her the doctoral program at UConn. “I thought the weekly modules worked really well and were easy to implement into my schedule.” And Krista adds that she felt like she was in a live classroom setting thanks to the Zoom platform, which was used during the weekly synchronous meetings. As she says:

“Everyone could see each other and Tom encouraged dialog between us. He also made sure we all had the opportunity to speak, including those students who were more reserved. And of course, we were already accustomed to Zoom long before the Pandemic hit and Zoom became a ‘thing.’ I also really liked that my classmates were in different professions, which helped me better understand how each type of professional learns and teaches.”

One of the other key strengths of the online program, says Krista, were the weekly assignments. “The assignments were structured around one specific topic only. Plus, they built on what we had been introduced to during the previous weeks, so that our new knowledge became second nature over time.” And she adds: “Tom would provide the assignments as guides only. If there was something else that caught our interest, he encouraged us to lead our own assignments.”

Helping save lives

During each of the three online courses, students were also asked to do a project, which could be completed during the course, or they could take on one big project that would be completed at the end of the three courses. Krista decided to do one project that spanned the entire program. She linked it to her doctoral thesis, which was focused on screening for military history and suicide risk of veterans being treated in a civilian clinic setting.

“For the certificate project, I decided to add an educational section for physicians, focusing on the importance of implementing this screening program into their clinic practice,” she says and adds: “Interestingly, we discovered that veterans comprised 13% of our patient population. This group has risk factors that civilian patients typically don’t have. Once we implemented the screening program, we found two vets who were at high risk for suicide and were able to connect them to appropriate mental health services.”

Today, the clinic where Krista practices now screens all patients annually for military history. As she notes, “Some patients are not comfortable disclosing their vet status either because of the stigma attached to being a veteran or because they don’t want to relive the trauma they had experienced while in active duty.” Krista has submitted her thesis for publication.

Two big takeaways

When she talks about the biggest takeaways she gained from having earned the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate, Krista says: “I tell anyone who may be thinking about doing this program that it will help you become a better healthcare provider because you’ll improve your patient and staff education skills. And you’ll become a better learner yourself.”


“Anyone in the health professions field should get this UConn credential. As an Occupational Therapist I know what I need to be teaching people. But the approach and methods for teaching most effectively were missing—this was never taught during my academic experience. I also firmly believe that having this credential can help in a future job search. I will definitely promote my having gone through the program. Anyone on a search committee at the college or university level will want to know that you have the theoretical foundation to deliver the content in a way that meets every student’s needs.”  - Goesta (Gus) Schlegel, PhD Candidate, Health Professions Education Certificate, Graduate Summer 2020


UConn Online Health Professions Education Graduate Certificate, Gus Schlegel

Thanks to the knowledge he gained in the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program, Goesta (Gus) Schlegel recently sat for and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam.


Adding the Missing Piece to Enhance Patient Care


Goesta Schlegel, known as Gus to his friends, has had a long love affair with teaching. In fact, his interest in education goes back to his Army days, when he served in an active duty capacity as an Occupational Therapy (OT) Assistant from 1988 through 1992. Part of his team’s mission was to train commissioned officers to identify stress in soldiers and enable them to help their subordinates develop coping skills they could use in the field. The doctrine that he and his team wrote on how to treat combat stress is still in use today.

When Gus was honorably discharged from active duty, he joined the United States Army Reserve and returned to college to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in OT. He was 29 years old when he graduated from New York’s Dominican College in 1995. Over his long career as an OT, Gus has worked in school, skilled nursing, and clinical settings, during which time his interest in academia continued to blossom. “I knew I needed a Master’s degree to be able to progress in a college setting and actually teach students. Sure, as a clinician, I had worked extensively in the field with students, but had never taught in a formal classroom setting,” he says.

In 2011, Gus decided to apply to the University of Connecticut (UConn) for a Master of Professional Studies in Humanitarian Services Administration, which he completed in 2016. That same year, he started working on his PhD in Public Health at Walden University. “When I started the PhD program, I wanted more formal education in learning theory. I felt that I still didn’t know how to deliver information most effectively, so that it would be fully synthesized by adult learners.”

The tipping point

As Gus explains, that was the tipping point for him to look for a program that would help him more effectively use adult learning theory. “What do you look out for in your students so that you know how they’re best able to learn? How can I most effectively convey information without overwhelming the person? How, as an Occupational Therapist, can I make sure my patients fully understand my recommendations so that they can be an active partner in decisions and choices around their care?”

Those—and many other key questions—drove Gus to research programs that would help him sharpen his teaching skills in order to positively affect patient outcomes and enhance his teaching skills as a part-time faculty and clinical educator at Quinnipiac University. As a UConn alumnus, he decided to see what his alma mater had to offer. After a brief Internet search, he found the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program. Bingo! He called Dr. Thomas Van Hoof, Director of Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor in UConn’s School of Nursing, to talk to him about the program. A year later, in the fall of 2019, he began the first online course, NURS 5700 - Health Professions Education: Evaluation.

Gus says that the content of the Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate program was exactly what he was looking for. For example, he learned strategies about how to avoid overloading students. “We learn through hearing and seeing, but when those two channels are filled to capacity, we need time to process the information and admit it to our long-term storage. If you sit through a full day of lectures, you will lose a lot of that information. We learned how to help students make the information they’re gaining relevant to their lives, and that’s how it sticks.”

Practicing what he preached

According to Gus, Dr. Van Hoof always practiced what he taught, especially the premise that new learning builds on past experiences. For example, each week Dr. Van Hoof, who taught all three Health Professions Education Online Graduate Certificate courses, would provide readings with guided questions. The assignments would then build on each other from week to week. “This helped reinforce everything I had learned from the previous week. In fact, within just the first couple of classes, I had already learned enough to change how I was conducting patient and caregiver training, specifically training informal caregivers to be better equipped to care for a loved one.”

As Gus explains, unlike caregivers who go to school to learn about patient care, adult children who find themselves in the position of caring for a loved one typically have no formal training. “I learned how to best understand a caregiver’s ‘health literacy’ and how to teach in bite-size segments, so that informal caregivers are able to retain and commit to an experience they can draw from going forward.”

Zooming before the pandemic

So what was Gus’s impression of UConn’s online platform, Husky CT/Blackboard? He loved it! At the start of each course, Gus says that Dr. Van Hoof provided trial runs on the Husky CT/Blackboard and Zoom platforms. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are now accustomed to Zoom and other online collaboration platforms. But I started the program six months before the pandemic. So I really appreciated how Dr. Van Hoof led us through the platforms and showed us how to log into Zoom calls. He also helped us make sure that our equipment was operating properly and how to set up our work space for the weekly Thursday synchronous sessions.”

Gus also found it refreshing that there were a wide range of health professionals in the program, including nurses, physicians, and professionals with expertise in community health, health science, and human resource management. “By better understanding the mindset and challenges of other types of health professionals, I learned new strategies to work more collaboratively with my colleagues to make sure our patients can understand and assimilate the information we, as a team, are providing.” Gus notes that to this day, he is still in contact with many of the students in his cohort who went through the sequence of three online courses together.

Three projects—or one big one

Students were given the choice to do individual projects for each course, or one project that extended over the entire program, the route Gus decided to take. For his project—Using Segmented Multi-Media to Augment Occupational Therapy—he created a bank of multimedia presentations, both audio and video, each of which were kept to a maximum of 15 minutes long.

As Gus explains: “Each element of my project was based on theories and models that support optimal adult learning. This included The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, which states that learners process dual channel verbal and visual input, and only a finite amount of input can be processed at a given time through each channel for maximum effective learning to occur. The learner must be able to attend to the presented material, mentally organize the material, and then integrate it with prior knowledge. Scaffolding multimedia course content allows the learner to consume multisensorial material at his or her own pace, and it provides the learner with opportunities to then integrate the new material with previous or parallel learning experiences.”

In summary, says Gus, who recently sat for and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam: “Anyone in the health professions field should get this UConn credential. As an Occupational Therapist I know what I need to be teaching people. But the approach and methods for teaching most effectively were missing—this was never taught during my academic experience. I also firmly believe that having this credential can help in a future job search. I will definitely promote my having gone through the program. Anyone on a search committee at the college or university level will want to know that you have the theoretical foundation to deliver the content in a way that meets every student’s needs.”