Each Job Every Day: Diabetes Education Specialist

Sara Johnson’s journey to becoming a diabetes education specialist began in college.

As a nutrition intern at Camp Needlepoint, a camp for children with Type 1 diabetes, she became fascinated by the direct relationship between food, insulin and blood sugar.

The final hook came after attending a training session that had participants simulate having diabetes.

“I developed a deep compassion for any individual living with diabetes and knew at that point that I wanted to specialize as a dietitian in diabetes,” says Sara, RD, LD, CDE.

Improving patients’ lives

Fairview’s diabetes education team is made up of registered nurses and dietitians who are cross-trained in one another’s roles. As an example, registered nurses are able to educate diabetes patients on basic nutrition recommendations and registered dietitians can show patients how to give themselves an insulin injection. 

At a high level, the role consists of providing education to patients and their families on how to manage their diabetes, set goals and take the necessary steps to achieve those goals while living their lives to the fullest.

The majority of a diabetes education specialist’s time is spent working directly with patients, either one-on-one or in a classroom setting. They educate patients about everything from technology—how to use their devices and monitor their blood glucose—to broader lifestyle questions with tips on how to stay healthy and reduce health risks.

The personal nature of what they do requires a caring and compassionate touch, something Vickie Baeyen, RN, CDE, diabetes education specialist, learned from supporting members of her own family.

“Working as a nurse and having family members with diabetes, I saw the complications and challenges they faced,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference and make life better for my family members and the patients I care for, and every time a patient feels successful in managing their diabetes, it makes me proud of the work I do.”

Education is key

Diabetes education specialists work closely with their patients’ providers and nurses and maintain regular contact with pharmacy staff and medication therapy management providers. Because medications can be expensive, they also seek to connect patients with social workers or Fairview financial services for additional support.

They also work to overcome the biggest challenge when it comes to diabetes education: the internet.

“Type ‘diabetes’ in your search engine and you are bound to get varying opinions on how to manage the disease,” says Sara. “When a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, their first questions are, ‘What do I eat? No carbs? No sugar? No white foods? No butter? No red meat?’ We offer a comprehensive education program and our recommendations come from the American Diabetes Association and American Association of Diabetes Educators. Patients appreciate getting scientifically supported information and are often relieved when they find out they can eat their favorite foods and still manage their blood sugar.”

Depending on the site and patient population, specialists may see more patients with gestational diabetes because of available OB clinics in the area or more Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes patients because of endocrinology, internal medicine or family practice clinics in the area.

“We do our best to meet patients where they are, provide them the best care and keep it affordable for them,” says Vickie.

Making a difference

At a few Fairview clinics, diabetes educators also lead support groups and diabetes education classes for newly diagnosed patients, gestational diabetes patients or those with pre-diabetes. In addition to those classes being open to the public, the team also supports community diabetes events such as the American Diabetes Association Walk to Stop Diabetes and the Diabetes Expo.

Sara says her continued passion for her job comes from the coaching and one-on-one opportunities she has with patients: seeing the relief on their faces after managing their first insulin shot on their own or watching a patient make progress after making healthy lifestyle changes.

“Ultimately, a cure for diabetes would be the greatest blessing,” she says. “But until then, I’m excited to share the new information we learn daily with people living with this chronic disease.”

For more information on the diabetes support groups, click here.

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