TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Since 2009, 19 students have become eligible to take the Certified Education Health Specialist (CHES) credentialing exam at the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Institute of Public Health. Each of those students successfully passed the exam, allowing FAMU to hold the distinction of having a 100 percent pass rate on one of the nation’s most respected health education competency exams. The Institute of Public Health recently learned that it once again achieved this feat, securing a 100 percent pass rate on the 2013 exam and surpassing the national average score of 71.56 percent.
To succeed in passing the CHES exam, students must display extensive knowledge in the seven areas of responsibility expected of health education specialists: assessment needs, planning of programs, program implementation, evaluation of programs, program administration, acting as a resource and communications and advocacy.
Though the exam is not required for public health professionals, the Institute encourages FAMU students and graduates to take the exam to gain advantages in the competitive job market. Ivette Lopez, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science and health education, said students and graduates of the Institute of Public Health often opt to take the exam because they want to position themselves to attain the nation’s top job offerings. “Our students are ambitious,” Lopez said. “They always want to do the best they can, and always want do a little extra.”
Sherese Bleechington, Ph.D, a 2012 graduate of the FAMU Institute of Public Health doctoral program, is an example of the FAMU students who have gone the extra mile to ensure success in their careers in health education or related industries. Bleechington took the CHES exam in 2007 while obtaining her degree and now works as a senior health evaluation leader, managing and overseeing the research and evaluation work of several Centers for Disease Control (CDC) contracts.
According to Bleechington, taking the CHES exam has helped to accelerate her career because employers have viewed her CHES credentials as an indication that she possesses a higher level of competency than others who work in public health. Bleechington explained that the exam does not only provide advantages in the job search and interview process, but it also provides advantages in the day-to-day work of a public health specialist.
“I would strongly recommend it,” Bleechington said. “With many of the positions I’ve applied for, the CHES is a preferred credential. For several job opportunities it was a requirement. Credentials are definitely necessary to set you apart because everyone has degrees nowadays.” Bleechington said she first learned of the CHES exam from her former adviser at FAMU, who helped prepare her for the exam by providing her with study materials. She applauded the FAMU faculty and staff for their continued efforts to push students to look beyond simply attaining a degree and encouraging them to obtain credentials.
“The FAMU Institute of Public Health is a very good environment for professional development,” Bleechington said. “I just want to encourage students to never settle, that is what I was taught [at the Institute]. If you can get a master’s, you can get a doctorate. You can always go higher.”
Torhonda Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science and health education echoed Bleechington’s sentiments. “Employment announcements will say ‘test preferred’ and that gives our students the edge,” said Lee, who holds a Master CHES certification. “Our students’ ability to pass the exam speaks to the their academic preparation and their ability to perform on a competency exam. Taking the exam encourages people to improve and displays a commitment to continuing to develop as a professional.”
Institute of Public Health Director Cynthia M. Harris, Ph.D., said the faculty and staff play an integral role in the success of graduates taking the exam and their transition into their chosen career paths. She explained that the Institute’s professors and advisers work tirelessly throughout the academic year to help prepare students for the exam by hosting test preparation workshops and implementing competency-based instruction.
Harris not only credits the quality faculty and staff for the consistent achievements of the Institute of Public Health, but also acknowledges the hard-working students who continually strive for excellence. “We are very pleased with the student performance,” Harris said. “They’ve had really prestigious internships where individuals specifically request that students come from FAMU. We’re very proud of them.”