Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

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Providing Effective Education to People with Diabetes: 3 Tips for Healthcare Students

Jan 08, 2019

by Melissa McNulty, PhD, APRN, CNS, ACE-CHC

As a nursing professor, I often find that students are intimidated at the thought of teaching the people they work with. When I was a student, I distinctly recall feeling as if I still had so much to learn that the prospect of teaching someone else was the furthest thing from my mind. Regardless of where you are in your health profession education, first semester or last, you can still find ways to educate people about their health conditions. With 30.3 million people in the US with a diagnosis of diabetes as of 2017, there is a high likelihood that as a health profession student, you will be encountering individuals with this diagnosis often.1

What you teach a person with diabetes (PWD) can increase in complexity as you progress through your health profession program. For example, early on you might educate them about target blood sugar ranges, then progress to symptoms of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, and eventually information about medications or dietary modifications needed for people with diabetes.

There are some basic teaching principles that will serve you well as you begin to provide education:

  • Assess the person’s readiness to learn

    It is important to consider the current circumstance of the PWD before providing education. Have you ever had the experience where you were told a diagnosis and then do not remember anything that was said by your health care provider after that moment? The person’s brain is still processing the new diagnosis and providing education at that moment is not likely to be highly effective. Some other factors that can interfere with learning include severe pain, stress, or anxiety.

  • Assess prior knowledge

    Do not assume that just because a person has had diabetes for 10 years that they know all about the condition and you cannot contribute to their learning. Unfortunately, not everyone with diabetes has the opportunity to learn about their condition from a Certified Diabetes Educator. Recently while I was in the clinical setting, a nurse approached one of my students and asked her to provide a PWD with orange juice. She went on to explain that the person’s blood sugar was 80 and the PWD felt that was too low for them and asked for juice. Rather than providing the juice, we went in and provided some education to the person regarding target blood sugar levels. Although this PWD had been diagnosed with the condition 12 years prior, he was unaware of what his blood sugar level should be.

  • Provide education in short sessions
    You do not need to sit down and lecture for an hour to have effective learning take place. Your teaching can be incorporated into everything else you do with your client. Some examples of times you can teach an individual about diabetes include when testing blood sugar, providing a meal tray, providing medication, or assessing a wound.

The more you practice providing education to the people with diabetes you encounter the more confident you will be and the easier it will become. In fact, the education you provide will likely be mutually beneficial because you will find that when you teach someone else, you learn the content yourself at an even deeper level.

About the Author


Melissa McNulty is a college professor with 16 years of experience in nursing and nutrition education. She has a PhD in health science education and research and master’s degrees in both nursing and psychology. She is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and American Council on Exercise Certified Health Coach.





  1.  Center for Disease Control (2017). A snapshot: Diabetes in the United States. Retrieved from:



1 comment

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  1. Sep 05, 2022

    There are several ways in which you can help educate your patients about living with diabetes: Encourage them to read more about it. People who read about it are more likely to understand what they are reading and be able to use this knowledge in their daily lives. This may mean giving them books or magazines on topics related to diabetes or having them watch educational videos online or on TV shows that focus on this topic. Educating them about educational tools like can really make things easier for them. Have them watch videos produced by organizations such as Diabetes UK or by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver who have gone through extensive training courses in order to provide accurate information about living with diabetes.

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