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10 Important Health Careers in the Treatment of Diabetes

Managing diabetes can be very difficult. If there are complications, an already serious disease becomes much more complex. That's why diabetes patients should have a full team of medical professionals available to handle every aspect of the disease, starting from the day of their diagnosis.

Allied Health

But just as diabetes can be overwhelming, so can choosing those health care providers. Where should patients begin? For Erin Spineto, president of Sea Peptide Salties and a Type 1 diabetic, that answer is easy: "The most important team member is a doctor who listens to you," she said. "We live with diabetes day in and day out, many of us for decades. We have learned a great deal in that time. Many of us research our meds and different management tools. A doctor who knows that and respects our opinion is so helpful. If we are to follow our doctors directions, we need to feel like we are being heard."

Fortunately, those in the physician support roles also understand the importance of a health care team working together for the best possible health management. November is Diabetes Awareness Month, so it's the perfect time to learn more about the dedicated health care professionals who work with diabetes patients.

Physician assistants

In most cases, the initial diagnosis of diabetes begins with a primary care physician. From there, other doctors get involved in the treatment. Depending upon the progression of the disease, you might see an endocrinologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, podiatrist and more. Almost all of these physicians employ nurses and physician assistants who will spend time with patients as well.

Those who choose to enter medical careers go through many years of intense schooling to hang their medical diploma on the wall. Physician assistants have found the middle ground between a rewarding medical career and the lengthy education required to become a doctor. The physician assistant completes an accredited program in physician assisting, and then completes the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The PANCE is similar to the medical boards that doctors sit for at the end of medical school.

Nurse practitioner

Many physicians employ nurse practitioners. In most cases, the nurse practitioner can handle any issues their patients might be having with diabetes and will consult with the doctor to coordinate treatment. Nurse practitioners must have a master's degree in nursing, as well as the proper clinical hours and specialty courses required to sit for the national certification examination.

Diabetes educator

Upon diagnosis with diabetes, patients may be sent to a diabetes educator. This is a crucial step, as the diabetes educator may provide a wealth of information and guidance in every aspect of diabetes, including diet, exercise, medication options and much more. Some of the most common health care careers that lead to the position include pharmacists, nutritionists and registered nurses. Those who want to become a registered nurse must complete a nursing diploma program, an associate degree program in nursing or the bachelor's degree in nursing. They then take additional courses in order to earn certification as a diabetes educator.

Nutritionist

For patients with questions about the best foods to manage diabetes, a nutritionist is the person to call. The nutritionist can help with everything from the most basic information on proper diet to the more intricate dietary needs of those who are facing serious diabetes complications. Nutritionists begin their education with a bachelor's degree, and often earn a master's degree before obtaining their license.

Phlebotomist

One of the first things that changes upon a diabetes diagnosis is the amount of bloodwork required. Doctors often want to check bloodwork at least every six months, and possibly much more often than that. When blood is drawn that often, a good phlebotomist can become a treasured asset to the diabetes team. Phlebotomists must earn a diploma, certification or associate degree, and then must go through a great deal of on-the-job training.

Other health care professionals

Diabetes patients might be surprised by just how many medical professionals they meet. Some they might only encounter when they face complications; for instance, a podiatrist might not get into the mix unless there's a slow-to-heal foot wound, or a nephrologist might not be called in unless there's kidney trouble. But there are many unsung diabetes team members:

  1. Psychologist. Diabetes can take a mental and emotional toll. To help combat the problems that diabetes can bring, a good counselor or psychologist can be very effective.
  2. Pharmacist. When numerous medications are prescribed to treat diabetes and other conditions, the pharmacist and pharmacy tech can spot interactions and other problems before they become a serious medical emergency.
  3. Billing and coding specialist. Diabetes treatment often involves a great deal of insurance wrangling. Billing and coding specialists make that job easier by ensuring the proper codes are used, thus saving patients money and time.
  4. Dental hygienist. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can bring big changes to oral health. A good dental hygienist can help ensure a diabetes patient's teeth and gums are healthy, and can usually spot problems right away.
  5. Personal trainer. Those with diabetes need to take careful care of their bodies, including taking the right medications, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising. A personal trainer can look at the physical needs of a client with diabetes and tailor a program that will help him or her stay in good health.

Diabetes treatment begins with a good education

Those who treat diabetes patients must have the right education to enter their field. But education is also vitally important to the person who has diabetes. Learning as much as they can about the disease and how to manage it can hold them in good stead in the years to come. "I try to keep up with the medical publications centered around diabetes," Spineto said. "I find reading keeps me on top of new findings and the biochemistry behind how all of my medications play together and how my body responds both to medications and to my exercise regimen."

In addition to maintaining open communication with their health care providers, patients should never hesitate to reach out to others who have diabetes, as great answers can be had from them as well. "I also consider my group of peers who are very active with diabetes as part of my health care team," Spineto said. "When I have a question about ways to address problems that come up in my care, they are often the ones who come up with the best solutions. I can then bring these solutions to my doctor to see how they can be used for me."

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