Podder Talk is featuring stories that show how diabetes can impact the path a person takes in his or her professional life. In this second installment of “Careers in Diabetes” you will read about 22-year-old Emily Viall’s journey towards becoming a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator.
“You’re not going to live to 50 and if you do it’s not gonna be a healthy 50,” the gynecologist said to me with a raised voice.
I was sitting in a small doctor’s office a week before Christmas, facing a gray-haired gentleman in a white lab coat who I’d only just met an hour before. The tears I’d been trying to hold in streamed down my face. I was 16 years old. I had been living with type 1 diabetes for a little under two years.
At the time, I was angry at this gynecologist for making a snap judgment about me, for yelling at me about the excess glucose in my urine that was likely a result of the sugary cereal I had for breakfast. As I got older, however, I reflected on this moment and imagined what this doctor must have seen sitting across the desk from him: a smart 16-year-old girl who was too lazy and too ignorant to stop her diabetes from killing her.
This moment isn’t the reason I decided to become a registered nurse. But when I’m caring for people weighted with the burden of illness and chronic disease, I remember what it feels like to be on the other side of the table. Guilty, ashamed, afraid.
Starting My Diabetes Career Path
After finishing nursing school at Ohio State University last June, I searched for jobs that would give me the opportunity to work with individuals with diabetes. I had volunteered as a camp counselor and nurse at an American Diabetes Association camp for six consecutive summers and it was always one of my favorite weeks out of the year. I loved being surrounded by other children and adults with diabetes, laughing and ranting about living with the disease. I thought it was remarkable that something so dark had been turned into a source of joy. That’s how I knew I wanted to work in healthcare, specifically in diabetes management.
Getting into the Healthcare Field
A few months ago, I started working as a nurse on a Post-Renal Transplant Unit. Our unit sees pre-operative as well as post-operative kidney transplant patients. Furthermore, we care for patients who may be rejecting their kidney after surgery. Not surprisingly a large percentage of my patients with end-stage renal disease have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Or my transplant patients taking anti-rejection medications, such as prednisone (an anti-inflammatory steroid), to protect their new kidney develop steroid-induced hyperglycemia (which requires insulin). This patient population needs extensive education about living and coping with diabetes.
Very few of them were fortunate like me. To be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005, at a young age, sent to one of the best children’s hospitals in the country and put through a rigorous crash course in disease management, working with a team of expert endocrinologists, dietitians, diabetes educators, nurses, social workers and psychologists. Oh, and thanks to my parents, not having to pay a dime of it.
Learning and Teaching Good Diabetes Management Habits
I learned good diabetes management habits early through education and these habits were reinforced through quarterly doctor’s appointments to hold me accountable. I was lucky. Some people get a rudimentary “Check your blood sugar, take some insulin if it’s high and eat some sugar if it’s low” and are sent out of the clinic into the world.
In the next two years after accumulating enough contact hours, I hope to become a Certified Diabetes Educator so I can help to improve the current model of diabetes care. Standards of care can and should be higher for people with diabetes. I want to give newly diagnosed people and old-timers, who think they have nothing new to learn, the type of education and superb nursing care that I received. After that, my dream is to become a Nurse Practitioner working in in-patient diabetes management.
I want to sit across from my people with diabetes struggling, look them in the eye and say, “Look, I know this is hard. I know how you feel. You’re not alone.”