Career Tracks

There’s an incredible world out there with a ton of professional positions in the diabetes field.

Many people think that the only way they can make a career of helping people with diabetes is to become an endocrinologist or a diabetes educator, but in reality almost any career path can be linked with diabetes. The world needs more professionals who are passionate about helping people with diabetes, and understand what living with diabetes is like. CDN would like to help you become more involved in the professional world of diabetes, whether it is going to medical school, becoming a researcher, chemically engineering future medicines, designing the future of technology, working at a nonprofit, or protecting the legal rights of people with diabetes. 

We have created Career Profiles to help provide insights into what some of your career options might be, what it takes to get there, and some considerations for along the way. Don’t see what you’re interested in? Tell us! We would love to add a profile for the career you are interested in as well - chances are somebody else will want to see it too!

Featured Career: Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

What is a CDE?

The National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators describes a Certified Diabetes Educator® (or a CDE®) as a health professional who possesses comprehensive knowledge of and experience in prediabetes, diabetes prevention and management. The CDE educates and supports people affected by diabetes to understand and manage the condition. CDEs have passed a rigorous exam to show they have this specialized knowledge.

What kind of schooling is required?

In order to become a CDE, you must be a clinical psychologist, registered nurse, occupational therapist, optometrist, pharmacist, physical therapist, physician (M.D. or D.O.), podiatrist, dietician, physician assistant, health educator, or health care provider with a master’s degree or higher in social work.
Many of these degrees require post-graduate work and/or a certification examination, but it all starts with your undergraduate degree. If you’re interested in any of these professions and in becoming a CDE, it would be a good idea to pursue a major in the sciences, including biology, chemistry, bio-chemistry, pre-med, nursing, or psychology.

What other eligibility requirements are there?

The National Certification Board of Diabetes Educators (NCBDE) certifies CDEs through an exam, which they administer. If you meet the pre-requisites for becoming a CDE, you then need to pass this exam to become a Certified Diabetes Educator. NCBDE is always reevaluating the needs of people with diabetes, and as a result, the eligibility requirements are always changing. Check out the eligibility requirements here.

Professional Development Related to Becoming a CDE

The CDN team attends the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) National Conference every year. Each year, we take a selected group of students to accompany us. While at the conference they have the opportunity to share their experiences with CDN, network within the community, and attend sessions. If you are interested, please contact CDN’s Program Director. 

Susanna Robinson

Member of the 2013 Board of Directors for the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE)

While Susanna currently works as the Senior Regional Scientific Manager at AstraZeneca, a biopharmaceutical company, she shared with us her experience in her previous position as a pharmacist in a low-income, minority community.

 What was a typical day like?

No day is ever the same. I dealt with a great deal of health illiteracy – which affects 30-40 percent of the US population. (Health Literacy is defined as the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.) Those factors are only exaggerated in an indigent community like the one where I worked. Some people couldn’t read numbers. I often would have to find creative ways to help them understand how to take their medications, like using colors, stars and moons on pill bottle lids – a lot of creative things like that. Having a skill set beyond your profession, like a CDE certification, makes you think more about the best way to help people dealing with a disease like diabetes. When supporting patients with chronic diseases, no day is ever the same. Diabetes management requires individualizing patient goals and treatment plans. In addition to the challenges of a chronic medical problem, many of our patients were also indigent and were burdened by extreme socio-economic difficulties.  Health Literacy is defined as the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. Approximately 30-40% of the US population have literacy challenges.This was a frequent problem for many of my patients and some couldn't even read numbers.  As medical professionals we work to identify a process for our patients to understand and safely take their medications.  Being a CDE enables a medical professional to expand their patient care skills beyond their scope of practice and help people succeed with managing chronic diseases like diabetes.

What was the best part about that job?

Knowing that you changed a life. 

What was the worst part?

There is often not enough recognition in the medical community. Budget cuts come, and in health systems, services such as diabetes education programs are the first to go because it costs money to have a skilled professional in a role like that. It felt like I was always trying to prove my value from a monetary standpoint. At the end of the day, we're dealing with a challenging economy. Our health system believes in the concept of preventative medicine and patient education, however, a challenging economy doesn't always permit this to occur.  Certified Diabetes educators doen't always receive recognition since our services cost money, before health care dollars can actually be saved.  Thus, when budget cuts are necessary, diabetes education programs are often the first service to be eliminated.

How many hours a week did you work? 

I was a salaried employee paid for 32 hours per week, but actually averaged at least 40 hours.  It is not uncommon for health care professionals to work extra hours since we tend not to go home if there is an important patient issue that needs to be addressed.

What skills and personality traits make a good CDE, in your opinion? 

You have to be very comfortable around patients. You can be a nurse and not be as comfortable with patients as you need to be for this role. You need to be empathetic, and open-minded. Type 2 diabetes is often thought of as a disease that patients caused themselves by poor lifestyle.  Poor health choices can make diabetes worse or make it occur sooner in a person that is at risk.  It is important to not be judgmental of patients.  A CDE needs to find ways to engage their patients and motivate them to succeed.  Patient interviewing skills are ideal as you work to help patients establish goals. It is important to earn patient trust while being assertive about good choices.  Diabetes has many ugly complications.  We have to inspire patients to prevent complications, but have to be supportive when the occur. One of the hardships is that patients with this disease are judged, especially type 2 patients. We can’t be judgmental. You also have to be motivated to help others succeed - you have to like people want to spend quality time with them. You have to be creative in how you can help somebody else succeed. You need to be insightful in patient interviewing and goal setting, and comfortable with seeing the ugly sides of a disease.


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