We spoke to someone with type 1 diabetes who is working on earning their Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) credential, formerly known as Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). David shares some of his journey and explains more about this educational process.
Hi David, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. So many people living with diabetes are passionate about our cause and choose a profession related to our condition. I am always seeing questions within the community about how to become a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) and I thought it would be helpful for our readers to have someone walk us through their journey on becoming a CDCES.
When were you diagnosed with type 1?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on October 13, 2008 when I was 11 years old.
How did you handle it growing up?
I didn’t know how to handle it as a kid, honestly. I hadn’t fully accepted my disease until I turned about 14 years old when I began to take this disease into my own hands in a more responsible fashion. Once I fully accepted this disease, I handled it very well, in a positive light!
Have you always wanted to become a CDE or did you start down a different path?
No! I actually didn’t want to be a certified diabetes educator until my junior year of college. I was choosing to go on several different routes. I started out majoring in biomedical sciences/pre-med to become an endocrinologist, then changed to pre-dentistry, and then I lastly switched to graphic design. I was convinced I wanted to be a graphic designer, up until I was in my third year of college, I realized my calling to become a diabetes educator, as I realized my passion for educating others on diabetes and tackling some of the common misconceptions behind it.
I then dedicated all my design work to becoming centered around diabetes education and stereotypes and then graduated with my BFA in graphic design, emphasis in photography and digital illustrations, creating a final Senior Gallery Exhibition where I was able to hold a display in a gallery of design work 100% related to type 1 diabetes. Now, a year later, I am getting my master’s in public health, majoring in health education and wellness coaching to eventually become a Certified Diabetes Educator, all with a designer’s twist to it!
Did you have any mentors (like a diabetes educator) who helped you with diabetes management?
I would say first and foremost, my very first (pediatric) endocrinologist who diagnosed me as a type 1 diabetic and was very encouraging to me that I could lead a normal life with type 1 diabetes. I also have been inspired by several active members and leaders in the diabetes community who have truly shaped my passion and experience in this diabetes space.
Did you have any positive or negative experiences with educators that shaped your perspective of how to best approach helping others with the condition?
Yes! Absolutely. When I was about 13 years old and began caring for my diabetes on my own terms, I wasn’t caring for my diabetes in a responsible way, which led my hemoglobin A1c to skyrocket and be at the highest it had ever been. Once I went in for my 3-month check-up with my endocrinologist and diabetes educator, my diabetes educator sat me down and gave me a very mean and stern lecture as to how I was not caring for my diabetes and if I kept that up, I would be facing some very serious consequences, such as amputations, heart problems, and vision loss.
After that appointment, as scared and depressed as I was, I took that anger and frustration and proved not only my diabetes educator wrong, but I also proved to myself that I could reach a certain level of peace and stability over my own diabetes management. Though my diabetes educator hurt me with the words she used and her strict demeanor, I thank her for instilling that drive in me to fight against my diabetes and create a world where diabetes does not have to be the “worst case” for anyone! That is when I chose to start up my social media brand, @type1livabetic, where I try to encourage others to view their diabetes with positivity, rather than negativity!
What was the first step you took in order to get closer to your goal of becoming a CDE?
The very first step I took in order to get closer to my goal of becoming a CDE was to finish my undergraduate degree in graphic design, create a full body of work related to type 1 diabetes, then apply into a masters program that would grant me a Masters in Public Health (MPH). Once I finish my master’s program in December of 2020, I will be one step closer to earning my title as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).
I understand you are more than halfway through the Health Education & Wellness Coaching Program through the School of Public Health. Congratulations! How has that been? I know you mentioned you liked to incorporate type 1 into class discussions and assignments, can you give us an example of something you did?
So far, my program has been pretty enjoyable for the most part. My biggest challenge thus far has been transitioning from design school and being a graphic design major, where I was so used to projects, rather than studying for tests and doing assignments. So now, being in a more health-related field, I am having to adjust my whole mentality in terms of how to go about studying and applying real-life health situations into my program.
When I get the chance, I always make sure to incorporate type 1 diabetes into any class discussion and/or assignment. At certain points in my program, we would have an assignment for class discussion and the topic would be diabetes that week. I chose to share my experiences with diabetes and try to educate my classmates at the same time, as I am aware that many still have some ideas about diabetes that may not be true, so I find as we all make it our mission to become health care professionals, I am able to help them gain a better understanding on what diabetes actually is, both type 1 and type 2, through simple lectures, class discussions, and assignments.
What type of schooling do you need to have before you can go on to become a CDE? And are there different options?
The traditional route, from what I have heard, is that most CDEs have a background in nursing, nutrition, and/or dietetics, however, the type of schooling I need, based on the unique path I am going towards, is that I will need to gain my MPH degree, then obtain a certain amount of internship hours in the field of diabetes afterwards. After that, I will take the CDE exam and hope to become an official CDE finally!
Have you found other people living with diabetes going through your program?
I honestly have not, as my path is very unique, however, in sharing my own journey and experiences with this program, I have found a handful of my type 1 friends and followers showing interest in going through my program, which is amazing!
What have you found to be, or think will be, the most challenging part of becoming a CDE?
I believe that given I am a type 1 diabetic myself, I will be able to have a stronger impact on my patients as a CDE, making it easier for myself and for others, however, I believe the hardest or most challenging part will be having to learn how to work with others from a variety of different backgrounds and be able to still help them and connect with them on a very personal level.
I understand you need a certain amount of hours interning, how many exactly and where do you hope you can spend that time learning? In a hospital setting? Private office on-line coaching, etc?
Yes, I am not entirely sure of the exact amount of intern hours needed, however, I do know it is somewhere between 1,000-1,600. I feel as though it can vary depending on which program I go towards. I plan to somehow connect with a diabetes-based company or organization, whether a medical device company or a certain organization, and help in interning as a designer, educator, or any outreach/marketing professional in their space, as a way to practice my educating degree, as well as my degree and strong passion of design.
Now, more than ever, providers are making use of telemedicine as much as possible? How do you feel this affects patient care? Are there pros and cons to an online educational setting?
I personally have had a few medical (diabetes-related) appointments through a telehealth system and have found them to actually be very nice and convenient, from a variety of different perspectives. For the most part, it is nice to be able to see a doctor from the comfort of my own home and still be provided with the exact same patient care I know I need. I believe that this can affect some patients in a way that some may feel they receive better care in person with a doctor and are able to gain more from that face-to-face interaction. In this case, I would say that the pros and cons to an online educational setting truly depend on the patient as everyone is different and may require or desire a different degree of medical attention.
How has this education impacted you financially? Is it manageable, do they have any special programs or resources you can recommend to anyone who is interested but may not feel like they can afford it?
This form of health education has not impacted me financially, only in the sense that my insurance at the moment has been great and has helped me in receiving the care I desire. However, many organizations or medical offices have been great, especially these days, in providing a discounted program for patients who need to see their doctors regularly, but cannot afford it these days, given the current state we are all living in. I think it is always worth it to ask a doctor for any recommendations they may have for patients who may not be able to afford certain online care, such as a savings card, insurance coverage, or any local telehealth programs that allow a patient to receive the same type of care they normally would have, only online now.
What advice would you give someone just starting on their road to becoming a CDE?
Stick with it. I know it may seem a bit discouraging now, but think of the big picture. You are needed in this field to change the way we discuss and manage diabetes as a society. Think of yourself when you were newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (if you have diabetes), and how you could have benefitted from having a certified diabetes educator, just like you! Do it for yourself and do it for others as well!
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