I recently had an individual ask me what exactly is a CDE and what do they do? My initial response was a quick, textbook type answer; a certified diabetes educator (CDE) is a health professional who has experience and expertise in the area of diabetes prevention and management. My role is to support people with diabetes to understand and be able to manage their disease. Coincidentally, later that same day one of my children asked me to better explain to them what I “do”, for a presentation they were working on at school. My simple explanation earlier that day, became so much more involved as I described the many hats, I and all CDE’s wear throughout our day and career.
I am an EDUCATOR
The person with diabetes requires education on many lifestyle pieces that if understood and incorporated, will ultimately impact their overall blood sugar management and road to success. Most people with diabetes have never been taught the basics behind how they fuel their body and the impact it has on their blood sugar control. Along with understanding the amount and type of exercise that will help them achieve their best results. I must assess each person individually and learn what they know about their disease, along with their readiness to learn. I must meet them where they are, compared to expecting them to be ready for what I have planned. Recently having a past patient come back and tell me they are now leading a diabetes support group, and have decided to take classes on-line in the field of nutrition was the ultimate recognition that the education I provided made a difference, enough so, that this individual wants to educate others.
I am a CHEERLEADER
A diabetic diagnosis can be daunting, causing fear and frustration for not only the person with diabetes but the family. It is critical that I build a relationship with my patients where they trust me, so they buy into the education I am providing. I must endlessly encourage them so that when they feel defeated, down or unsure of their own ability, they see that I believe in them. I recall a patient who was homeless and struggling with being positive toward anything in life. I knew I had to meet him where he was and help him find assistance for his mental health before he would be ready to work on his blood sugar. This patient did see a psychiatrist, ultimately got a home, and is now working to improve his blood sugar. He has thanked me on several occasions for never giving up on him and always believing in his ability to get through this very hard season in life.
I am a FRIEND
A CDE has more time to spend with their patients. In learning one’s lifestyle, I can develop a personal treatment plan that is fair to who they are, what they do, and what they believe. I, in turn begin to learn a lot about them as individuals. Just as in most relationships this time factor built on trust becomes a mutual friendship where we both look forward to our time together. So the person with diabetes is not the only one reaping benefit as in these relationships, I find great joy. I have been a CDE for 12 years. The most rewarding part of this job is when a person with diabetes is no longer a “patient,” but hugs you and thanks you for your investment in their life as a “friend.”
I am a TEAM PLAYER
It is critical that I practice as only one part of the very important medical team including all healthcare individuals who are involved with the patient and the most important one on the team, the patient them self. Recently working with a patient who had experienced a stroke and was struggling to get appropriate transportation to make it to any of his appointments. I worked closely with his case worker and provider, and together we found a solution for his transportation issues and he is now successfully getting to each appointment and improving his blood sugar control.
So while my initial answer was correct, in that a CDE promotes self-management and works to optimize healthy outcomes for those with diabetes, the daily conversations and work we provide, is so much more complex, personal and ultimately rewarding. I would not want to trade in any of my “hats."