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Be a diabetes advocate

Posted on by Blake Pinto

A Dallas Nursing Institute professor’s April 2016 presentation on diabetic education and dietary management at a Gothenburg, Sweden health care forum leaves doctors, nurses, and educators with three key takeaways.

By Rita Armstrong, Doctorate of Nursing Practice, M.S.N. Ed, R.N. For more than 20 years, I have made a living caring for others and helping patients find ways to manage their illnesses so they can live healthier lives. But in 2015, my nursing profession became personal. Elevated hemoglobin A1c in my red blood cells meant only one thing: either I make some serious lifestyle changes or face the threat of Type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of 2012, 25.8 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and the numbers continue to rise. Suddenly, I was one of them. As a nursing professional and a Dallas Nursing Institute professor, I knew immediately that these blood test results were a warning sign. I immediately began investigating self-care options, such as a diabetes meal plan. Before long, my personal research grew into a professional specialty in diabetic education and the importance of dietary management. I recently spoke on this topic at the 9th annual International Forum on Quality & Safety in Health Care in Gothenberg, Sweden—a three-day forum that drew more than 3,000 health care professionals and students from more than 65 countries. My presentation included three main learnings that I want doctors, nurses, dieticians, health care providers, and everyday people to take away when thinking about diabetes.

  1. Understand What Dietary Management Means for Diabetics

In today’s image-obsessed world, the word “diet” is often overused. But for a pre-diabetic or a patient with diabetes, a healthy diet can mean the difference between life and death. Glucose levels need to be monitored daily and to do this, patients need to understand the forms of sugar they ingest from the food they eat. Aside from the obvious sources of glucose we find in sweet treats and fruits, patients with diabetes need to also look out and know how many carbohydrates they are taking in each day. Pastas and breads—all those wonderful starches—break down in our digestive system in the form of sugar. Smart dietary management is about making smarter dietary choices. Instead of grabbing a hamburger, patients should think about grabbing chicken salad. Instead of processed food, choose grilled or steamed vegetables. Even the simplest of choices can make a big difference for a diabetic patient.

  1. Keep Diabetic Patients Engaged and Proactive

As a long-time nurse (and now a patient myself), I know first-hand that after the initial diagnosis, patients with diabetes can be reluctant to stay engaged with the process of managing their illness. It’s not that they don’t care. I think what happens is they get overwhelmed trying to manage their own health. Being a proactive patient means more than taking daily medication, glucose monitoring, or even daily dietary management. It means staying on top of follow-up appointments with the doctor or nurse and staying aware of new developments in diabetic research and clinical prevention. What I tell patients is what I learned myself and what I tell my students at DNI: Be your own advocate. Health care changes constantly. New information about treatment options and dietary discoveries is coming out daily. Stay informed and stay well.

  1. Introduce More Diabetic Self-Management Education into Nursing Curriculums

Nurses are on the front lines of diabetic care, but we need to be sure that they have the education they need to empower their patients. This means more diabetes information in nursing curriculum and more training on how to teach diabetic patients to manage their illness. As I develop curriculum at DNI, I try to think about what this next generation of nurses needs to know to be leaders in the field. Compassion is one of the hallmarks of a DNI education. That compassionate care should also extend to teaching patients the importance of compassionate self-care. The bottom line is that while doctors and nurse practitioners are usually the ones making the initial diagnosis, nurses are the ones who need to motivate patients into action to fight the disease. Adding components of diabetic self-management education (DSME) and self-care into nursing curriculum will go a long way in helping tomorrow’s patients with diabetes. Your Turn: Take The Next Step Inspired by what you read and want to be part of the solution? Start your own nursing journey today with a Licensed Vocational Nursing degree, Associate Degree in Nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the Dallas Nursing Institute: — Dr. Rita Armstrong has spent more than two decades in the nursing profession, specializing in medical surgical nursing, telemetry, ortho-rehab, and long term and acute care in geriatrics. She has worked as a full-time faculty member and course curriculum developer at Dallas Nursing Institute since 2015 and has been invited to present her work around the nation and now, across the globe. She is a member of multiple nursing organizations, including the American Nurses Association (ANA), Texas Nursing Association (TNA), and the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing Delta Alpha-at-large.


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