Lorena Drago MS, RDN, CDE, CDN, LVCYT
Senior Associate Director
Bellevue Hospital, New York
Why did you choose to become a diabetes educator?
Diabetes is very prevalent in the communities I served. When I became a diabetes educator, I was working in the South Bronx which has one of the highest rates of diagnosed diabetes (16%) compared to NY City (9%). Nutrition is the cornerstone of diabetes management and there was a paucity of diabetes and nutrition educational materials that were tailored to meet the cultural and culinary practices of Hispanic subgroups living in the community. Becoming a diabetes educator allowed me to serve the population that needed to hear the message through the prism of cultural translation.
How has being an AADE member and AADE spokesperson helped you advance the specialty?
AADE provides the tools that I need to advance the role and practice of diabetes educators. For example, the annual meeting is a conduit that connects diabetes educators with each other and best practices. Networking is an excellent way to collaborate in ongoing projects or create new ones. With the advent of the Diabetes Advanced Network Access (DANA), I have access to the newest technology resources, all in one platform. AADE peer-reviewed journals and webinars inform, educate and provide tools to evolve and transform diabetes education practice. As an AADE member I can collaborate with a multidisciplinary group of health professionals and draw on their skills, knowledge and experience. In turn, this enriches me as a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.
As an AADE Spokesperson, you belong to a distinguished group of diabetes educators that are recognized for their expertise in diabetes education. What prompted you to become a spokesperson?
Being a spokesperson is an excellent opportunity to spotlight the multifaceted role of the diabetes educator in the prevention and management of prediabetes, diabetes and other conditions. I want to create a powerful differentiating brand for diabetes educators. Many individuals have not heard about diabetes educators and those who have do not know the breadth and depth of our scope of practice. As a spokesperson, my goal is to create a strong brand for the diabetes educator so we can increase the recognition of the diabetes educator and reach more people who need our services.
As Chair of the 2019 AADE Annual Meeting Planning Committee, you know that we are embarking on AADE’s premiere educational event, the 2019 Annual Conference in Houston this summer (AADE19, Aug 9 – 12). How has being the Chair of this planning process impacted your ability to support the role of diabetes educators and the vision for the diabetes specialty?
It has been a wonderful opportunity to work with an incredibly passionate and talented group of educators who bring a high level of expertise to the table. They are in charge of identifying topics of immediate interest that will positively affect the day-to-day work of educators while identifying healthcare trends that will impact the way they will practice in the future. These deep level discussions help us shape the content of the meeting. Our goal is to have each member feel inspired, prepared and challenged once the meeting is over. We want the diabetes educator to feel they have additional tools to practice today while preparing them for the future.
Over the past decade, diabetes has grown to be a public health epidemic. Given your professional experience, how do you view the diabetes educator’s role in tackling diabetes?
Diabetes educators are positioned to have an expanded and collaborative role in health care. One of them is the diabetes educator’s role in Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is transforming patient care. AI can help diabetes educators select those patients who are more at risk and create tailored interventions to optimize health outcomes. Diabetes educators can collaborate with other specialties and create and direct programs when it is essential to have a diabetes expert. I see diabetes educators involved in personalized engagement engines where the patient-centered care is front and center. This system will extract patient data points and provide the diabetes educator with refined information that the patient needs in the manner and format that the patient prefers. These advances in AI will not replace the diabetes educator but it will help them create a more concierge-style of learning.
You are a writer and an editor. How does this and your professional experiences contribute to your career? What would you suggest to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
I spoke about how diabetes educators need to expand their role. Writing helps me expand my role and stretch myself professionally. I am constantly reading, learning and seeking fresh and new material. As a writer I feel it is important to step out of diabetes and attend non-diabetes related conferences and then challenge myself to find where diabetes education can intersect with other sectors. For example, I attended a business conference where the key topics were to create business opportunities abroad and an opportunity arose to write an article about tips for travel with diabetes. I am very interested in health literacy and after attending a health literacy conference I decided that there was an opportunity to bring diabetes to the forefront in the health literacy world. This opened an opportunity to work with the mayor’s office and create a curriculum on health literacy and diabetes education. I would advise anyone who is interested in writing to start doing it. Write a blog or short articles on social media. Become an AADE volunteer. There are so many wonderful opportunities to join the communities of interest. Pick one that you feel passionate about and start contributing.
What are some of your interests outside of diabetes education?
I am an avid reader. I love Zumba and kayaking. I have two kayaks, and nothing fills my inspiration glass like being on the lake in my kayak.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to aspiring Diabetes Educators?
Recently, a colleague passed the CDE exam. I told her that attaining my CDE was the best professional decision I ever made; had I known how much I would learn and how much I would be given professionally, I would have done it sooner. Being a diabetes educator is a role that opened many different opportunities: I became the director of a recognized diabetes education program; I became an author; I have collaborated on many education and technology projects.
Connect with Lorena on Instagram: @Lorenadragomsrd