Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

News & Publications

Choosing to Educate

Oct 11, 2013

Special guest blog from Molly McElwee, RN, CDE, Clinical Research Coordinator, Center for Diabetes Technology, University of Virginia

You became an educator for a reason.  You see opportunities where knowledge would make a situation better, and you like to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  You educate all day long, but what happens when you leave work?  You don’t stop educating.  Choosing to teach is a calling and a gift. 

Sometimes I find myself at a crossroads where I’m asking myself if I want to educate the person in front of me.  We’re talking strictly outside of work hours.  Let me illustrate this for you.

I’m standing in line in the pharmacy and I have a basket full of glucose tabs, alcohol swabs, some candy (for when the glucose tabs are undesirable) and a script for Lantus – for if or when my pump ever malfunctions.  A lady in front of me, let’s call her Sandy, turns around and decides now is the exact moment to start chatting about everything in my basket.  “Oh, my grandmother takes Lantus for her diabeetus and she’s already gone blind.  I tell her, grandma, you need to lose some weight and start exercising and you can get rid of that diabeetus!”

I’ve said nothing this whole time so she takes this as a nod to keep talking to me, “You know you can get rid of your diabeetus, too. You just need to lose some weight, exercise more and eat smarter.”  I’m looking over at this woman who is a healthy 150lbs heavier than I am and wondering what kind of tips she will share next.

“You know that Dr. Oz can cure diabeetus. He is on in the afternoons. Do you watch Dr. Oz?”  Now she’s asked me a direct question, so this should warrant a response.  Instead, I start the internal debate, do I chose to educate, explode or congratulate her on her great knowledge?  It’s a hard decision and to be honest I have chosen each one of these at different times usually without regret.  I take a deep breath and evaluate the line in front of us, I don’t have enough time to properly educate her and I’m going to lose my place in line if I explode.  Congratulations wins!

“Oh my goodness, you are so bright!  I didn’t realize I could cure my type 1 diabetes by following your lifestyle suggestions!  What are you doing wasting time in line, get on down to the news station right now and report on this incredible knowledge you have.  I’m a nurse and a diabetes educator and have been looking for an answer to my type 1 diabetes for 15 years now and just now you figured it all out!”

I let that sink in thinking I might have just really plucked a nerve, but instead she comes back with “Do you really think so?  I’m gonna go home right now and email Dr. Oz.”  I put my hand on her shoulder and say, “please do that, right now, don’t waste any more time.”  At that, she left her basket on the floor and ran enthusiastically out of the store. 

The pharmacist, who knows me well, saw this encounter and had bent over crying because she was laughing so hard.  When I got up to the front of the line she came over and said, “Molly, I don’t know where you come up with that stuff, but it was brilliant!”  I thanked her and paid for my things and left. 

To this day, I regret not choosing to educate this woman.  When you have a chronic disease, many people think they have the answer for you and they will offer it numerous times to you completely unsolicited.  At times, I can swear it feels like my hair is bursting into flames; I’m so upset by what I hear.  But stopping and choosing to unravel the misinformation will make life better for me and my patients. 

So understand, there will be no end to the suggestions that will be offered to your or your patients on how to cure diabetes.  But please remember why you are an educator in the first place and set the information straight.  I and the people like Sandy who will confront me with this information thank you for your tireless efforts.


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  1. Oct 25, 2013

    I find that so often people are well-intentioned, but A. They don't fully think through the implications of what they say. B. They don't realize the subtle advertising that goes on behind the sources where they receive the majority of their information. So many people genuinely believe Dr. Oz is the top expert and that their sugar laden granola is healthy because the front of the package says so. While it can be extraordinarily frustrating and my internal response has historically been cynnical, sarcastic, or defensive, I've realized that the majority of people I interact with are simply uneducated and misguided as you pointed out and try to have grace for them, realizing that's why I have the job I do!
  2. Oct 14, 2013

    Molly-- Thank you for sharing your personal story--and your honesty! I am sure many, if not all, diabetes educators have experienced this dilemma. When you have diabetes yourself, it is more than just education, it is personal. It is quite frustrating with all of the misinformation out there on the internet, TV, ect. I had to laugh because I ran into a gentleman at Wal-Mart last week who was shopping for alcohol wipes. During out conversation, he told me he uses them to clean off the needle before he injects his insulin! He also told me he injects into his abdomen and--ready for this--his calf! Don't worry, I couldn't help myself and educated him right there on the spot! This interaction made me realize how much good we could really do near pharmacies or places that sell diabetes products! Set up a table and chair in the isle where the meters and alcohol wipes are. I have no doubt a diabetes educator would be asked lots of questions!

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