Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

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Leadership: It’s not a just a theory, it’s a way of being

Oct 10, 2017

Today, people want you to be everything to everyone. You are the advocate, the educator, the resource finder, the insurance claim fighter, the school liaison, the technology guru, the speaker, the mentor – and then you have your job. Sound about right? I thought so. How do we fix this? In industry, we say you need to “put more people on it.” But what if you don’t have more people?

Diabetes professionals, educators specifically, are a small but mighty group. There are about 18,000 CDE’s and 29 million – give or take – persons with diabetes in the United States. To say we’re short staffed is the understatement of the century. To give everyone who needs it access to a diabetes educator, your patient load would be approximately 161,000 plus people. Sound unreasonable? I agree. So what are we doing to fix this?

I notice the generation of educators before me doing 100 plus different things all at the same time in hopes of keeping a float. They all talk about retirement and what they will do with their time, but I don’t hear much about mentoring. Why? They have not yet entrusted or fully trained the next generation of professionals to come in. My generation comes in and says, “Why?” Our reaction is to engage more people, nurture more talent to fill the holes and stop pretending you can possibly keep up with the demand or do 100 plus things at an adequate level.

This is what I call a “come home to Jesus” moment. It’s a crisis point that has the potential to launch us into the next big step in our future – the mentoring and leadership step. It’s a necessary step that we must take together. Leadership is not a theory. It’s a way of being, and we need to embrace it. When you are truly embracing leadership, you see people with talent that have interest in your field, and you nurture them.

You introduce them to others who can also help them. You assist them in finding opportunities to grow and learn. You don’t have to babysit them to get great results, but you do check in, give constructive feedback and talk about how they can reach their goals. Thanks to advances in technology, these people don’t even need to live near you. Connection by phone, email and online meetings are incredibly resourceful ways to mentor someone. If you find yourself five years away from retirement and you aren’t mentoring anyone, please ask yourself, “Why?”

Following the logic of “putting people on the problem,” there’s another crisis we’re facing in the diabetes profession. The ability to embrace the next generation of leaders. I get it, I’m turning 40 this year and I look at the 25 year-olds and think, there is so much for them to learn. Just as some of our senior leaders look at me and think the same thing. Where does that leave us? Unable to ever pass on duties and take on new challenges because there is nobody to take our place? That’s not leadership. Leaders grow people and in turn grow themselves. This is a hard topic, but it’s time we had a professional and supportive discussion about how we mentor the next generation into the profession and into leadership positions.

Molly-McElwee-MalloyAbout the Author:

Molly McElwee-Malloy is the head of patient engagement and director of marketing for TypeZero Technologies, an artificial pancreas company. She also volunteers with the Charlottesville (VA) Free Clinic to help oversee the Diabetes Insulin Titration Telemedicine Program. She's active in the diabetes online community: @MollyMacT1D.


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  1. Nov 10, 2017

    I cannot believe how few CDEs there are! This statistic makes me want to become a CDE that much more! 

    Kalicia W, RN

  2. Oct 22, 2017

    Molly, As always, you bring up important topics and necessary next steps for our profession, and the ultimate best scenario for people living with diabetes.  We need to collectively collaborate, go beyond our individual professions borders and be willing to share the wisdom and experiences we have with those who want to learn and grow.  It does not take that much time or energy, and the rewards are many.  Today, with the new technologies that are familiar to this next generation of education managers, we can reach out to many, from our own homes. I believe it is the digital technologies that will enable the concept of "10x the educator".  Instead of being able to manage 200 people, you can reach 2000 because of the ehealth solutions.  So for us "more mature diabetes educators", instead of fearing this new digital ehealth age - embrace it and learn.  The perfect scenario would be to mentor a new educator with all your diabetes care and management knowledge, and they can mentor you right back and teach you to be digitally proficient.
  3. Oct 12, 2017

    Thanks for your comment!  Yes, you are correct, the nursing profession has -for years- held the motto "we eat our young" when training new nurses.  I've never once seen it be effective for learning or for patient care.  I think a standardization of mentoring is needed to address this as a whole for emerging CDE's and other paraprofessionals working in diabetes.  When I think of positive experiences I've had with mentors, they never approached the situation as if they were teaching me anything.  They encouraged me to stretch and learn and in turn grow professionally.  My mentors have given me feedback (positive and negative) but it was always constructive and useful.  I've also experienced informal mentoring from other professions and I can't tell you how meaningful those experiences have been for me.  They might not be telling me about diabetes or patient care, but they are telling me about some part of diabetes - data, clinical research,  models for physiology - all informing my view and my knowledge base.  

  4. Oct 11, 2017


    I love this topic and that you are talking about it, it is a crucial conversation we need to have. Absolutely, we need to be proactive and supportive of the our newer, younger educators. We have a similar dilemma with nursing in general, endocrinology and medicine, and many other health careers.  We have had initiatives in the past (going back 20 years or so) to have mentoring as a focus for local, state chapters. I think it helped a few, but maybe  not the broad impact we really want and need to see.

    I am open to discussion and brainstorming a standardized approach...It helps to have a mentor geographically close, but now with technology, maybe we should revisit other avenues.... Thoughts? 

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