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What is a diabetes educator?

William Lee Dubois
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Diabetes educators are specialists whose job it is to help you understand your diabetes better and teach you what you can do to keep it in good control.

Diabetes educators come in several flavors. A Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) is typically a nurse or dietitian who has logged a certain number of hours working with diabetes patients and has passed a certification exam.

Of course, that means that there are also diabetes educators who are nurses and dietitians who are not yet certified but are building their hours to sit for the exam.

But beyond that, there are hundreds of paraprofessionals and allied health professionals who work in diabetes who are not allowed to sit for the CDE exam, (which is limited to only a few types of “licensed” professionals). These folks include Community Health Workers, Promotoras, and Health Educators.

Diabetes educators of all stripes work with patients one-on-one, in small groups, or on the phone.

Is one kind better than another? Well, I have some bias, but I think that the best diabetes educators, certified or uncertified, tend to be those who have diabetes themselves. But beyond that, it depends where you live and what resources are available to you. Diabetes is complicated, and can be confusing at first. I think it is great to have a tour guide to help you get started, and diabetes educators are some of the best tour guides around.

A diabetes educator can address any of the concerns or questions you may have about diabetes. Diabetes educators, for example, may give you background information about the biology of diabetes, teach you how to take insulin or check blood glucose levels, explain how to handle sick days and pregnancy, discuss the effects of various habits on blood glucose levels, and help you learn to cope with stress and how to choose, set, and reach goals. A diabetes educator is usually a registered nurse (RN), registered dietitian (RD), or pharmacist (RPH) with a special interest and training in caring for people with diabetes. However, physicians, physician assistants, and other health care specialists may also be diabetes educators. The initials CDE (for certified diabetes educator) indicate that the professional has passed a national exam in diabetes education and is up-to-date about diabetes care. CDEs often work in locations where people with diabetes are treated, such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies. You can also find a program recognized by the American Diabetes Association using their Recognized Education Program listing (Link: http://professional.diabetes.org/erp_zip_search.aspx).
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

The American Association of Diabetes Educators defines a diabetes educator as follows: Diabetes educators are healthcare professionals who focus on helping people with and at risk for diabetes and related conditions achieve behavior change goals which, in turn, lead to better clinical outcomes and improved health status. Diabetes educators apply in-depth knowledge and skills in biological and social sciences, communication, counseling and education to provide self-management training.

A diabetes educator is a specially trained nurse, dietitian, or other healthcare provider. Working with you one on one or in a class, a diabetes educator can give you the skills, knowledge, and support you need to succeed with diabetes self-management. Ask your doctor for a referral.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.