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Nurses Defining Diabetes Education and Care

March 2013

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes is one of the leading causes of mortality in the world. It is a condition that affects the body’s ability to produce or absorb enough insulin, and can often become a deadly disease if not treated properly. Because of this, it is imperative for patients with diabetes to seek expert professional care from nurses and other healthcare providers to help monitor the condition.

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), a landmark medical study conducted from 1983 to 1993 by the United States National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), showed that keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible slows the onset and progression of the eye, kidney and nerve damage caused by diabetes. This study has significant implications for healthcare providers and their patients, indicating that a primary treatment goal in diabetes should be blood glucose control.

“Prior to the 1990s, we really didn’t know if there was a way to prevent or delay complications from diabetes. The results of the DCCT study really changed that mindset and the way we treat diabetes,” said Cynthia Watson, MSN, FNP, ADM-NP, nursing instructor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Lafayette, La. “Since then, there has been a lot of research into the various ways to maintain glucose levels, and how to manage all aspects of the pathophysiology of the disease – things we didn’t know a decade ago.”

Today, the role of a diabetes nurse includes both the care and education of a patient to ensure the disease is managed properly. Nurses who specialize in diabetes provide routine examinations, monitor their patients’ glucose levels, administer medication and explain treatment options. Additionally, they educate their patients on how to manage their disease, including diet choices and activity levels suitable for their condition. They also observe their patients for complications that are commonly associated with diabetes, including circulatory disorders, heart complications, and skin and eye disorders.

“Any nurse who is interested in diabetes nursing should be well-versed in the pathophysiology of the disease and the entire disease process. It’s important to know how lifestyle choices – such as nutrition, exercise and stress – can impact the condition, and to have a good understanding of the medications that are used to manage diabetes,” said Watson. “Those interested in the specialty should attend as many lectures and conferences specific to diabetes as they can, and subscribe to journals to keep current on some of the rapid changes that are taking place.”

The first step to becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) is to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in the science of nursing (BSN). It requires experience in diabetes education, as well as a satisfactory score on the CDE certification exam provided by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. Nurses interested in becoming an Advanced Diabetes Management Nurse Practitioner must earn a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) and have a minimum of 500 clinical practice hours in diabetes management, plus a satisfactory score on the BC-ADM certification exam.

“Diabetes nursing is a great career path for anyone who desires to help patients manage their diabetes and prevent the complications of the disease. However, all nurses have the potential to encounter diabetes in any setting and any specialty, so even if someone is not interested in pursuing diabetes nursing specifically, it’s extremely valuable for nurses to have the background and education on how to properly care for a patient with diabetes,” said Watson.

For more information about the career of a diabetes nurse, visit

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