By Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE
The expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” encourages optimism and positivity in the face of life’s challenges. For sure, the diagnosis of diabetes can be a life challenge. For our Tandem Blog series, Making Lemonade from Lemons, we’ll profile people with diabetes (PWD) who’ve squeezed lemons and made lemonade from the diagnosis of diabetes - they exemplify this expression. These PWD make living with diabetes just a bit easier for everyone and show the world just how well PWD can live. This profile features Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE.
Q1. Hope: Please share with us a few details surrounding your diagnosis.
A1. Jane: I was diagnosed at 7 years old. I spent 10 days in the hospital where my parents attended classes and I played in a sunny play room. Aside from following my nurse, Sue, around as she performed vital signs on other patients, the hospital stay was pretty boring!
Q2. Fast forward. Tell us how you fit diabetes into your life today?
Gratefully my parents established from the start that diabetes was “do-able.” They took it in stride and never made it a big deal. As a result, it has never stopped me from doing anything I’ve wanted to do. I make diabetes care part of my routine, like brushing my teeth and checking email.
Q3. When and how did you make the decision to become a nurse? How did having diabetes influence this decision? When did you decide to specialize in diabetes/become a CDE?
Nurse Sue was my first exposure to nursing. Yet it was years later that I decided to become a nurse. I went to college to become a “medical researcher” and changed majors when I realized I wanted to work with people, not test tubes. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and went directly on to earn my master’s degree in nursing. Best decision I ever made!
Q4. What is your current job and how does this touch PWD?
I’m the director of the one-of-a-kind, entirely online master’s degree in diabetes education and management offered at Teachers College Columbia University. In this role I teach and prepare future leaders in diabetes care and education who will have a direct impact on PWD of all ages and types of diabetes. We focus on strengths-based, person-centered approaches that provide hope and give PWD the best chance at success in diabetes and life.
Q5. What in your mind are the upsides and downsides of having diabetes and being a healthcare provider in the field?
When I first worked in diabetes, it made me feel like a role model. I was inspired to step up my diabetes management game. I became purposeful about exercising regularly and making healthy food choices more consistently. I’ve had many people walk into my office and say “I’m here because Dr. X said you have diabetes.” Rather than feeling pressured by this, it inspires me to lead by example and share my experiences (only when asked).
Q6. At what point and why did you engage with/become involved with other PWD in the diabetes community-at- large?
I started a blog in 2011 and got involved in diabetes social media as a way to put myself out there for a book I was about to self-publish. I wasn’t sure about being so public about things I consider private, like my health. I still find myself balancing how much and where I share on social media. I am encouraged by the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) and the Peer Support Communities, which have become wonderful places for PWD to exchange stories and find support. Initially I found it a little challenging to figure out how to fit in as both someone living with diabetes and a diabetes care professional. Now there are many more HCPs with diabetes out there!
Q7. How have you become engaged/involved with the diabetes community-at-large? What activities are you involved with that “feed” your desire to give back?
I’m involved in the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE). I’ve served on various committees and worked on several projects over the past 25 years. Most recently I was elected to AADE’s national Board of Directors and begin my three-year term in January 2020. This work affords me the opportunity to shape how AADE supports diabetes care and education specialists, who, in turn, support PWD. My goal is to promote the connection between PWD and diabetes care and education specialists (AADE’s new name for diabetes educators) by increasing referrals, which transfers a patient to a clinician or clinic to address a specific need, and maximizing the work we can and need to be doing.
Q8. Over the last few years you have become a champion for the #languagematters movement. Can you tell us about this movement and why it’s important to you and PWD?
In the late 1980s I worked at a diabetes camp. We were taught the importance of the words we use (and shouldn’t use). This raised my awareness of our language problems in the world of diabetes. In 2015 I conducted a study on language and discovered that many people – besides me – also think it’s a problem!1 Soon afterwards I co-authored the AADE and American Diabetes Association (ADA) 2017 consensus statement on language.2 The “language movement” is working toward using language and messages that impart hope, put the person with diabetes first, and focus on their strengths. This is now a global effort among health professionals and PWD.
Q9: What is your advice to PWD who want to pursue a career as a healthcare provider in diabetes care and education?
Of course, apply for the Master of Science in Diabetes Education and Management at Teachers College Columbia University! Think about your professional goals and interests. Look into different professions that would make you eligible to pursue a credential in diabetes care and education.
Q10. What are your words of wisdom to other PWD and those affected by diabetes inspired to make lemonade from lemons?
Find something to laugh about every day. Maintain a positive attitude. Have fun. Pursue interests that keep you active and engaged in life outside of diabetes. Surround yourself with people who are empowered and living their best life.
Q11. What has been your biggest “glass of lemonade” to date?
Being part of the language movement and witnessing changes that are happening slowly, but surely, is truly refreshing!
- Dickinson JK: The experience of diabetes-related language in diabetes care. Diabetes Spectrum. 2018;31(1):58-64.
- Dickinson JK, Guzman SJ, Maryniuk MD, et al. The use of language in diabetes care and education. Diabetes Care. 2017;40:1790-1799. (Published simultaneously: https://doi.org/10.2337/dci17-0041 (published simultaneously The Diabetes Educator. 2017;43(6):551-564. DOI: 10.1177/0145721717735535)
Resources on Diabetes Language Guidance
- Dickinson JK: The effect of words on health and diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum. 2017; 30(1):11-16.
- Dickinson JK, Maryniuk MD: Building therapeutic relationships: Choosing words that put people first. Clinical Diabetes. 2017;35(1):51-54.
- American Association of Diabetes Educators: Speaking the Language of Diabetes. https://www.diabeteseducator.org/practice/educator-tools/app-resources/diabetes-language-paper
If you’re a person who believes you’ve made lemonade from your diabetes diagnosis, or if you know someone who has, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.
Author Bio: Hope Warshaw, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She has spent her career involved in diabetes care and education and has authored several books published by American Diabetes Association (ADA), including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. She was President of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) in 2016. She actively promotes the value of peer support to people with diabetes, caregivers and healthcare providers.
Hope Warshaw was compensated by Tandem Diabetes Care for her contribution on this topic. However, she created the content and it is based on her personal knowledge, experiences, and observations.
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