Learn How to Attain a Degree in Diabetes Education and Management

Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE

Many diabetes educators would like to learn how to attain a degree in diabetes education and management. Therefore, in this blog post, I interview Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE, Program Director/Lecturer for the Master of Science in Diabetes Education and Management at Teachers College Columbia University.

1. Jane, please share with us how you became a diabetes educator and your journey in being involved in academic work.

I became a diabetes educator while working at a diabetes camp (as their year-round Clinical Director). I had attended that camp as a child and went back for years as a counselor and nurse. Later I moved to Colorado and developed and ran a hospital-based diabetes education program for 12 years before landing at Teachers College Columbia University in 2011. I have been overseeing the world’s first, solely online graduate degree in diabetes education and management ever since. I also teach four courses in the program and have since added a post-master’s certificate.

2. What was the motivation to start a master’s degree program and diabetes certificate program in the diabetes education and management specialty?

A student at Teachers College first approached Kathleen O’Connell, who is a nurse and professor there, and suggested it was time to provide academic preparation for diabetes educators. Up until 2011 the only way to become a diabetes educator was to work as a diabetes educator. In fact, most people start out in their clinical discipline, doing something else, and land in diabetes education almost by accident or because they have a personal interest. Kathleen got some diabetes education experts together and developed the program. I was hired in 2011, and had the honor of launching the program that fall. Over the first year or so of the program I got several calls from people who were very interested in taking the diabetes courses we offer, but did not want another graduate degree. We decided to add the certificate program to address this need. We now offer both the 36-credit Master of Science and the 16-credit Certificate in Advanced Diabetes Topics.

3. What is the curriculum for the master’s degree vs. for the certificate program?

Both the master’s degree and the certificate include five, core diabetes courses, which cover pathophysiology, assessment, DSME programs, behavior change strategies, and interventions. In addition, the MS includes research methods, determinants of health behavior, multicultural competency, four elective courses, and an Integrative Project. The entire curriculum is online and asynchronous, so students can participate from anywhere in the world.

4. Please share some stories from the students who graduated – how did the degree help them with their career?

Our program is interprofessional, and we have students representing at least 10 disciplines so far (nursing, nutrition, medicine, pharmacy, health education, exercise physiology, physical therapy, dental hygiene, psychology, and optometry). Students love that feature of the program, because they learn together and from each other in our discussion-based courses. Because our courses are interactive, students have said they got to know their classmates better than they would if they were on campus. Students feel they develop life-long friendships and colleague networks. Graduates have passed the CDE and BC-ADM exams; some have gone on for further advanced degrees; some have taken on leadership roles in their workplace (or new workplaces); some have gotten the opportunity to work on major diabetes projects; and some have started working in diabetes education, which was a long-time dream.

5. What do you think the future of diabetes self-management education and support is?

We need diabetes educators who are prepared at the graduate level to lead and grow the specialty. These leaders will help recruit more diabetes educators, increase referral rates for diabetes education, and make sure that diabetes education is a covered benefit. They will develop programs and delivery methods that are timely, relevant, and put the person with diabetes first.

6. How will we know we are doing a good job as a profession?

We will know we are doing a good job when diabetes education is a household word and all people with diabetes are receiving this valuable service – when people with diabetes are not just asking to receive diabetes education, but demanding it.


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