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].