Arlena Garcia isn’t part of the Kovler Diabetes Center team. A medical/surgical nurse in Mitchell Hospital, she cares for inpatients with solid tumors and other medical conditions.
Which means she treats patients with diabetes.
Diabetes is an underlying condition for a multitude of other health problems. One third of patients hospitalized at the University of Chicago Medicine have diabetes, even if they are being treated for something else. Garcia sees patients who are living with diabetes but not managing it, and those who have just been diagnosed.
“They’re really anxious. They ask, ‘How am I going to do this? What am I going to do?’“ Garcia said.
Soon she will be able to tell them.
Garcia is a member of the first group of nurses across the University of Chicago Medicine who will train to become Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES) through the McNally Family Certified Diabetes Educator Program.
Diabetes educators are crucial members of a treatment team. They help people with diabetes learn about the disease; teach them how to use devices like insulin pens and continuous glucose monitors; explain the actions and side effects of medications; and help them develop healthy eating habits.
But the number of diabetes educators (formerly called Certified Diabetes Educators, or CDEs) is dwindling. The McNallys, who were struck by their importance when two children in the extended family with type 1 diabetes benefited greatly from working with an educator, created the fund at the Kovler Diabetes Center to bolster their numbers.
More than 30 have done so.
Peggy Hasenauer, the center’s executive director, is delighted. “I thought I would hear from five or six at most,” she said. “But so many are coming forward—young nurses, older nurses, nurses in obstetrics and cardiology, nurses with type 1 diabetes themselves. They’re nurses from all walks of life who have personal journeys with diabetes or are so worried about their patients with diabetes that they want to learn more.”
“We will now have CDCES embedded in clinical spaces,” said Emily Chase, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer, who helped implement the program hospital-wide. “Patients are going to be able to have more encounters with experts in diabetes. This is really going to change the way we’re able to interact with our patients with diabetes.”
The program will dramatically expand the availability of diabetes education, Hasenauer said. “In the next two or three years, the University of Chicago alone will be responsible for putting more than 20 diabetes educators into the world. That’s amazing,” she said.
Without the McNally fund’s support, nurses would find becoming diabetes educators nearly impossible, Hasenauer said. CDCES certification is a demanding process requiring 1,000 hours of hands-on training alongside a mentor. The McNally Family Program covers nurses’ salaries for one day a week for that training, and assigns them a mentor.
“This opportunity is unbelievable,” said Shelia Broome, a nurse practitioner in the program.
Diabetes education is essential medical care, says Broome, who works with advanced heart failure and cardiac transplant patients. In her previous post in cardiac surgery, she saw patients whose incisions wouldn’t heal, putting them at risk for infection, because they had uncontrolled blood sugar. “Diabetes was a really big issue,” she said.
It is also a personal issue for Broome; her grandmother died of conditions related to poorly controlled diabetes. “It was just due to poor medications at that time, and a lack of education and support”—the kind of education and support she will soon be able to provide.
The first eight nurses in the program started training at the end of January. A new cohort of six nurses will embark on the training every six months. Garcia is thrilled at the prospect of becoming a diabetes educator. “This is a way for me to help patients, to decrease their anxiety and assure them that this is totally manageable,” she said. “All they need is the information.”
Originally published on UChicagoMedicine.org