Another Challenge Accepted and Conquered for Cancer Survivor Kristie Litaker ’23MHA

UCONN Grad Receives Master’s Degree from UCF’s Fully Online Program

A lot of things have changed in Kristie Litaker’s life since she graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2004 with a degree in athletic training.

The Husky is also now a Knight.

Litaker was a high-school athlete and wanted to go into a sport-related field. She took an interest in athletic training, where she threw herself into the curriculum required for the rigorous profession.

woman in graduation attire
Litaker at her graduation from UCONN.

For nearly 20 years, Litaker was an American Red Cross Certified Professional Rescuer, and served as a teaching assistant in emergency procedures while at UCONN. She was also a student trainer for the CT Elite Field Hockey Camp, and a volunteer trainer for the Nutmeg State Games.

woman and athlete at stadium
Litaker spent years as an athletic trainer and an American Red Cross Certified Professional Rescuer before her work at Stamford Health in Connecticut.

Eventually, Litaker became an NASM certified personal trainer, a licensure she held until 2012. She was working two jobs as a physical therapy assistant and as a medical secretary and technician for a veterinary office.

“I felt like my background in athletic training prepared me for real life,” Litaker says.

And then her trajectory was halted – at least temporarily. Litaker became pregnant, and in the course of her pregnancy, also discovered that she had breast cancer: Stage IIIA ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes.

woman and baby
Litaker and her daughter, Aria.

Now, nine years later, both Litaker and her daughter are thriving. In fact, her daughter, Aria, was part of Litaker’s inspiration to go back for her master’s degree.

“I had considered going back to school, but could never find the right time,” Litaker says. “Life seemed to always get in the way.”

Once her daughter got a little older, and COVID shut down everything, Litaker decided to take the plunge. Not only did her job at Stamford Health in Connecticut support her decision, but they also helped finance her continuing education. It was also important to her that both she and her daughter would be working together on their education during the pandemic.

“It was a completely personal decision, to not only grow myself professionally, but for my daughter to see my example of working hard during COVID and online school,” Litaker says. “I wanted her to see me as a role model.”


Despite her desire to grow professionally, Litaker said starting the program was still a little scary.

After doing an online search for programs, UCF’s Executive Master of Health Administration piqued her interest.

“I reached out to the advisor, and it seemed like a great accredited program, something that was important to me,” Litaker says. “When I did a virtual tour of the campus, I was kind of jealous that I wasn’t able to come in person, but I set that as a goal for when I graduated.”

The anticipated length of the program is about two years, Litaker said, but her advisors told her they were flexible with the time frame to complete the degree. Because of her fulltime job and responsibilities as a parent, Litaker finished her degree in about three-and-a-half years.

When Litaker was doing her undergraduate studies at UCONN, she admits she wasn’t the best student. And even though that had been many years ago, she had some lingering reservations about starting UCF’s rigorous program.

“I was nervous to be starting again,” Litaker says. “But starting the program began to push me out of my comfort zone and working at your own pace meant that I had to do it on my own. It was challenging.”

Litaker and her daughter got through it together.

woman and her daughter
Litaker and Aria at Litaker’s UCF graduation ceremony.

“She was at school during the day, and when we came home, we had a schedule, depending on her activities,” Litaker says. “I made dinner while she got her homework done, and then when she went to bed, I did my homework.”

Litaker also squeezed in her homework or virtual meetings with her professor while she waited for her daughter at her after-school activities. It was also helpful that Litaker’s employer was flexible and supportive.

As an added bonus, much of the coursework that Litaker was doing was directly related to her work at Stamford Health.

“I gained valuable insight into why my day-to-day work in the radiology department related risk management and quality assurance was important,” Litaker says. In addition to the support from her immediate supervisor, Litaker was also developing valuable relationships with the hospital’s leadership team.

And even though Litaker was the member of multiple cohorts in the program because of her busy schedule, she appreciated the peer-to-peer evaluations from each of her cohorts and keeps in touch with others from the program.

“When we graduated, we were able to meet in person and put faces to the names,” Litaker says. “Quite a number of us came for the ceremony, and it was important for me to meet my professors in person, but most of all, I wanted my daughter to see me walk across the stage.”

When Litaker walked across the stage, her name appeared on the screen, much to her daughter’s delight.

“The fact that I graduated with a 4.0 made it even better,” Litaker recalls.

That was a goal Litaker had set for herself when she started the program, she says. One of the requirements of the program is that its students must not fall below a “B” average. The one time she got a “B,” she complained to her mother about it.”

“My mother told me that was good enough, but I wanted to finish strong,” Litaker says.

Since receiving her master’s degree from UCF, Litaker says that other departments in the hospital have been noticing her work, some of which is focused on capital and budgeting projects. She adds that being able to take financial management classes through the program has allowed her to better understand the complexities of budgeting and depreciation of equipment.

“In addition to capital budget and project management for both radiology and laboratory services, I also support the radiology physician practice where I create a quality assurance report that we compare to national data. This was something I was doing before I started my degree, but the classes I took for the program helped put everything into perspective.”

Getting her master’s degree from UCF has also heightened Litaker’s confidence in her own impressive abilities, she says.

“There are places in my organization where I can grow, but I also have interest in giving back by becoming an adjunct professor in our field,” Litaker says. “My long-term goal is to perhaps go back to school again to pursue my doctorate.”

Her takeaway, however, is to let anyone who is considering going back to school that there is no time like the present.

“Educating myself gave me such a good feeling, because of all the time that had passed,” Litaker says. “When people congratulate me, I am so proud and say, yes, I did it. My professors were wonderful, amazing, and supportive. I don’t think I could have made a better decision for my family, my life and my career.” [Since this interview, Litaker has been promoted to radiology quality manager. Charge On, Kristie!]


The executive Master of Health Administration is Florida’s only fully online,
CAHME-accredited health administration program. Students are connected to the
program through a dedicated cohort model designed to provide peer connections
and personalized attention from faculty.
Explore more about this specialized executive program.

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