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Guest Post: Becoming a CDE.

Abby has been busy.  Busy doing what, you ask?  Earning her certified diabetes educator credentials!  And she’s done it!  (Congratulations, Abby!!  Hard earned, and well deserved.  The diabetes community is lucky as hell to have you in both the peer and healthcare professional capacity.)  Today, Abby has returned to guest post about her journey in becoming a CDE. 

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So remember WAY back when I used to talk about how I wanted to take and pass the CDE exam and then work as a pediatric diabetes educator?

Well, it happened. I’m not writing to brag or make you all jealous (though if you are, I don’t blame you; my job is awesome) but more so because I wanted to follow up on the process now that I’m at the end of it.

You can find the requirements toward becoming certified on this website … which is all well and fine, except they seem unattainable for most of us. I had a lot of people contact me when I started my journey asking how I was going to obtain the hours, how I was going to study, when I would take the exam, and how on earth I would find a job in this field. Here is how I did it (and by no means was this path anything short of lucky and filled with connections).   It may stir up some ideas for you out there looking to sit in my seat (actually, please don’t – I finally got a comfy chair at work and I’d appreciate if you didn’t steal it).

Step 1: I worked at diabetes camp. I worked for very little pay with crazy, crazy teenagers. I barely slept, I yelled at invisible squirrels with my co-counselors. I gave glucagon to unconscious friends and was the sounding board when someone needed to admit they were struggling with diabulemia. I let the kids dress me up as a goth teenager, I ate many meals without my hands. I checked blood sugars on sleeping 6-year-olds and jumped in a disgusting pond with all of my clothes on. And I loved every second of it. My time at diabetes camp was invaluable both to my personal life and to my overall diabetes education. As a PWD (person with diabetes), I learned more about my own care than I had in the years of living with it, and as a future CDE I learned the biggest lesson of all: no two diabetes are the same, and yet they all have to follow the same rules.

Step 2: My time at diabetes camp then helped me land a job as a triage nurse at an adult endocrinology office. Oddly enough, most of my job was NOT diabetes-related. In fact, I learned more about the other glands in the body than I did about diabetes, at first. What I did learn here – which proved to be more useful than the diabetes stuff, on some levels – was knowledge about Medicare, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia (among other co-morbidities). These are things that we usually don’t think of when we think of diabetes, but they play a bigger role than you’d imagine. Being a CDE means that you have to not only understand what insulin dose to change, how to check a blood sugar, and how to teach someone to use a pump, but you are required to know how all of this will effect the whole person, and the rest of their life. My time in this position taught me just how much I didn’t know about diabetes. I learned what to do for colonoscopy prep, how to manage blood sugars after a G-tube was put in, how to relay orders between a doctor’s office and a nursing home, how to deal with company reps, and how to talk someone through glucagon over the phone. It’s not all test strips and CGMs.

Step 3: I knew people who needed me. A local pediatric clinic needed a person to fill a role as a diabetes educator, and I applied. I had not yet taken the exam, but they were okay with hiring me knowing that I was eligible. (I also knew one of the CDEs already employed there from my camp connections, which I think helped a little.)

Step 4: The exam. Of the 200 questions, 175 of them were graded. Only 26 of this 175 were about disease management. Well, what were the other 149 about you ask? Good question. I had at least four questions about Medicare guidelines (see how my first job really helped here?). Many questions about which lipid lowering medication is indicated, or hypertension drugs I would recommend. Basically, this exam had very little to do with actual diabetes education. Diabetes infiltrates SO much of everyone’s life, and doesn’t end when you leave the doctor’s office. Aren’t you glad to know that CDEs are expected to not only realize that, but be knowledgeable about how diabetes can affect every other part of your health and wallet?

After all of that, I passed the exam (after waiting six very long weeks for my results) and I’m where I want to be. My path was not easy, but definitely not as difficult as it could’ve been. I was able to earn my required hours in a job that taught me a lot about diabetes, a lot about nursing, and was fun (the 8 – 5 work day didn’t hurt either). I was not forced to take the traditional “work on a med/surg floor for three years” route that all of my nursing instructors wanted me to do. I found my own path that made me happy and helped me reach my goal.

There are many positions out there that you can take to learn about diabetes and get in your hours. I know quite a few nurses who are the “go-to diabetes nurse” on their ortho floor, or pediatric floor, or even post-op floors. You don’t have to land a job in an endocrine office. You don’t even need to be a nurse to become a CDE. I would highly suggest getting involved with camps or orgs to boost your resume and skills, and from there do what you can, and learn what you can.  It’s not impossible, I’m living proof!

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Abby is a 20-something living in a much-too-cold state constantly wishing she was on a beach. She has had type 1 diabetes for almost 16 years and is currently updating all of the letterhead in her office to include “CDE” after her name. Her favorite color is purple, she just adopted two very cute little kitten brothers, and she would really appreciate if you could tell her peppers and tomatoes in her garden to ripen up already. If you have any questions about her journey from irresponsible college student to RN, CDE, she is more than willing to chat [Editor’s note:  You can leave a comment for her in the comments section].

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kim #

    Yay Abby!!!

    07/21/14; 9:31 am
  2. Way to go, Abby! I was just thinking, this past weekend, about whatever happened to sometimes wrote for SUM but not much anymore. I’m glad to see you made it and achieved your dream job! Personally, I’ve always been intimidated by the commitment needed to achieve a higher credential and have always regretted it. So to see you accept – and complete – the challenge is a real achievement and I am so happy for you and for what lies ahead.

    07/21/14; 9:57 am
    • Clearly she’s been very busy earning her CDE. 😀

      07/21/14; 10:06 am
      • And clearly, I inadvertently left a few words out of that second sentence. But you got the message!

        07/21/14; 5:51 pm
  3. Thank you for the inspiration! I’m just finishing up my first pre-requisite and am about to take on two semesters of full time employment and crazy science courses – all to eventually apply for nursing school (and maybe or maybe not go the CDE route). I needed to hear a successful story. Good luck with everything!

    07/21/14; 12:36 pm
  4. marilyn laville #

    way to go! congratulations abby and good luck in your new enndeavors!

    07/21/14; 2:39 pm
  5. So happy for you Abby. I’m sure it’s just the start of many great things to come.

    07/21/14; 2:41 pm
  6. Jen #


    Thank you for posting. I recently graduated from nursing school. My son is Type 1 and I want to become a CDE as well. I live in a small town and the requirements seemed unattainable. You have given me some ideas to ponder and I appreciate it!

    07/21/14; 5:54 pm
  7. I’ve also been wondering, “Where’s Abby?”
    You’re an amazing young woman and I look forward to hearing about more of your future achievements!
    Oh – I’m in NH and just today, my first tomato with some color! Finally!

    07/21/14; 6:15 pm
  8. Dennis Burkholder #

    Hi Abby. I am back in college finishing a BNS degree and on to a masters. I do not want to be a nurse, so I am taking the long way to a RDE. What schooling do you have? Just curios . I could change school to do the RD route, but it would take the same time. Any help would be appreciated

    07/21/14; 6:33 pm
    • abby #

      Hi Dennis,
      I have a BS in Biology, an AS in nursing, and am working on my BSN currently.
      Good luck to you! RD/CDEs are much more hireable in the states these days 🙂

      07/23/14; 12:24 pm
  9. Nick #

    Congratulations, Abby! We need more CDE’s, they are essential, and maybe your example will inspire others to look at alternate paths!

    07/21/14; 9:22 pm
  10. Abby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh. My. Gooses! (<-George statement) I am SO freaking proud of you.

    Of all of the camp stuff you mentioned, some made me laugh (squirrels) and some made me think "holy crap" (glucagon). And through all of it you learned and grew and maintained your sanity and surely helped many people along the way to helping many more people.

    You are amazing, and I'm glad to know you, and even more glad that you're out there working so hard to help take care of our people.

    Love, hugs, and high fives from brother Scott! 🙂

    07/21/14; 10:38 pm
  11. Congratulations Abby!

    07/22/14; 9:31 am
  12. ria #

    only know of you through your posts on SUM
    congratulations ! and good luck !
    All of your clients will be very sweet…..=)

    07/22/14; 2:10 pm
  13. Sharon Chrisman #

    Geez, Louise! Two great posts in one day. 🙂

    Hi Abby!

    My Pip is a 14yo girl PWD. For the past two years, she’s been aspiring to join the minority of pediatric psychologist/CDEs and has already started thinking about colleges with good psych programs. She starts her high school freshman year next month and lives life to the fullest, but has been focused on this goal for two years now. When we walk into our Children’s Hospital, she instantly feels like she’s home.

    Love this guest post, and THANK YOU for posting the requirements. It will be good to see that there are other career paths she can choose before becoming a CDE. I heard this during an 8th grade teacher conference: “Your daughter should be a counselor.” And then I told her Pip’s plan. Cool moment for this proud mom.

    Thanks too, for posting the info about camp counseling. She wants to work at Camp Joy (Where the ADA’s Camp Korelitz is held in Ohio). I’ll be sure to share all of this information with her!

    A hearty WOO-HOO to you on your accomplishments!

    07/22/14; 9:19 pm
    • Abby #

      We NEED NEED NEED more psychologists who work with children with chronic illness, especailly those who can work with adolescents. Good luck to you and your little one!!

      07/23/14; 12:26 pm
  14. Stefani #

    Congratulations-it is a great accomplishment and one you should be proud of. My daughter has been living with type 1 for 19 years this October. She was diagnosed at the age of 9. She thought she wanted to be a teacher but instead used her type 1 as motivation to pursue a nursing degree and is also is a Cerified Diabetes Educator working for Children’s Hospital. I am proud of her and how she is helping others through her education as well as her own experiences.

    We both read Kerri’s blog and have followed her for a few years now. Thank you, to you both, for insightful reading and best of luck to you!

    07/23/14; 5:29 pm
  15. Kelly Rawlings #

    Hi, Abby. Thanks for letting us celebrate this achievement with you!

    You know how mass media or social media users sometimes blame people with diabetes for causing or choosing their condition? I like to remind myself that some people actually do choose diabetes. They are Certified Diabetes Educators.

    The fact that health care professionals who are already highly trained in their fields then take the extra effort to become certified is a great comfort to me. People like you devote their time to racking up diabetes education practice and volunteer hours,and take a tough exam to become diabetes education specialists. Certified Diabetes Educators have been true allies in my health journey. So thank you.

    07/24/14; 8:58 pm
  16. Eva #

    Abby! Your story is inspiring! Thank you for putting in all the hard work to achieve your goal, and for sharing your journey with us.I’m really glad you were able to land a position that you love! I’m a fellow PWD and considering switching careers to become a CDE so your experience has been especially interesting to me. I’m curious: when you were looking for a job, did you find more or less jobs openings than you were expecting?

    01/19/15; 4:32 pm
  17. Congratulations Abby very proud of you thanks for sharing

    05/25/15; 8:25 am

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