What Is a Diabetes Nurse Educator?
A diabetes nurse educator is a nurse who specializes in the care and management of patients with diabetes. They can be registered nurses, advanced-practice nurses, or nurses working in an expanded role. They can manage patients with both Type I and Type II diabetes, as well as women with gestational diabetes. Diabetes education can be one on one with patients, or via a group class.
They teach patients the causes, pathophysiology, and signs and symptoms of diabetes as well as hypo and hyperglycemia. Patients need to understand these concepts to remain compliant with treatment and follow up. For example, many lay people don't realize that diabetes can affect multiple organ systems. Patients need to learn how to assess their extremities, especially the feet, for wounds, lacerations, and ulcers as diabetes can affect healing. They need to get routine eye exams to check for retinopathy.
Diabetes nurse educators must also reach patients about the importance of diet and nutrition. Patients must learn to count carbohydrates and read food labels. They also need to learn to log their blood sugars and food to find out how they respond to the foods they choose. Logging blood sugars and diet also helps diabetes nurses and physicians change medications or treatments to ensure their blood glucose remains within a desirable range.
Patients must also learn about medications used for diabetes, whether it's oral or injectable medications. They must learn time frames in which the peak effect of the medication takes place, and what signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia are and how to avoid "bottoming out." Insulin-dependent diabetics especially need close monitoring-they must learn about the different types of insulins along with their onset of action.
Diabetes nurse educators also help monitor and track patients' labs to ensure their blood glucose is managed. Periodic Hemoglobin A1C checks are needed depending on the physician. Diabetes nurses can educate patients on what the test is, and why they need it done.
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Another unique advantage diabetes nurse educators have is that they can assess patients' ability and readiness to learn. If a patient is having difficulty understanding the concepts surrounding diabetes, the nurse can recruit the help of a family member or friend to assist in the management of the patient's diabetes. The nurse can also report any concerns, barriers, or treatment complications/ failures to the physician, implement a new treatment, and evaluate the patient's response.
Considering there is a nationwide physician shortage, diabetes nurse educators are invaluable as they help physicians manage their diabetic patients while working to ensure the best patient care outcomes.