With an estimated 23.6 million Americans with diabetes, the demand for treatments and informed healthcare professionals is climbing. Diabetes patients and the professionals who treat them must stay abreast of a rapidly changing field. Enter the diabetes educator.
Of the more than 12,000 professionals who belong to the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), more than half are nurses. Nurses with a knack for education and an interest in the ever-evolving field of diabetes are ideal candidates for this specialty.
“Next to my family, diabetes education has been the most satisfying, fascinating thing I’ve ever done,” says Ginger Kanzer-Lewis, RN, BC, EdM, CDE, an independent diabetes consultant in New York and Florida. “It allows you to make an impact on other people’s lives. There is no other disease in which patients decide if they will do well. It is phenomenal to watch patients realize that they are in control of their own destiny.”
Teaching Diabetes Patients, Educators Alike
Although Kanzer-Lewis is now an independent consultant, she started her diabetes education career while working at Catholic Medical Center in New Hampshire. Early in her career, when she was the hospital’s director of education, nurses who had patients diagnosed with diabetes would repeatedly approach her.
“They didn’t know what to teach them,” she says. “I did some research and found there was nothing out there for diabetes patient education, so I designed a program for these patients.”
Today’s diabetes education programs typically include teaching self-care behaviors, such as healthy eating, being active, monitoring, taking medication, solving problems, healthy coping and reducing risks. Diabetes educators may teach all-day group courses, two half-day courses or other variations depending on patient needs. Patients may also spend time one-on-one with a diabetes educator.
After working in hospital education for 35 years, Kanzer-Lewis decided to start her own business in diabetes education. Building on the contacts she had made with pharmaceutical companies, she negotiated consulting contracts to teach healthcare professionals about the latest methods of managing diabetes.
“I teach healthcare professionals about new medications that are available,” she says. “I also teach them how patients learn. Too many people stand and lecture patients, and I do workshops on creative teaching techniques. I want to teach healthcare professionals to have respect for patient learners.”
Path to Diabetes Certification
To learn how to teach diabetes education courses, healthcare professionals can take a three-day course offered by the AADE. The course is offered several times a year in different cities. Certified diabetes educators may also offer courses locally.
For those interested in earning certification as a diabetes educator, the first step is to apply to sit for the exam. To qualify to take the exam, applicants must meet several requirements, which include teaching at least 1,000 hours of diabetes education self-management and having at least two years of experience in diabetes education. Applicants must be a qualified healthcare professional, such as a nurse, dietitian, pharmacist, occupational therapist, physician, optometrist, physical therapist or podiatrist.
Those who qualify to take the exam and pass it are then officially recognized as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).
For nurses interested in starting diabetes education programs independently or within a hospital, one important step in the process is earning American Diabetes Association (ADA) recognition, which allows diabetes educators to bill insurance companies for their services.
Kathleen Fannin, RN, BSN, CDE, helped launch a diabetes education program at a Texas hospital and submitted the paperwork necessary to earn ADA recognition. When budget cuts caused the hospital to close the program 15 years later, she and a dietitian from the program launched their own business, Houston Diabetes and Wellness Consultants LLC. Although working independently carries risks, these entrepreneurs know the statistics are in their favor. Approximately 2,200 people are diagnosed with diabetes every day, according to the AADE.
“The rate of diabetes in our country is increasing rapidly, and there is a significant need for diabetes education,” Fannin says. “We are trying to be innovative by saying that hospitals don’t require an in-house education clinic but can hire us to do the education. We can give their patients the knowledge they need to manage their disease.”