Transforming Diabetes Education: Inside the Friends for Life Fellows Experience

August 15, 2023

The Friends for Life Fellows program was designed to help give healthcare professionals in training some very hands-on diabetes training. These are not necessarily specific skills, but more of a “diabetes-in-the-wild” and the reality of what living with diabetes looks like for the whole family experience. This past year, I had the privilege of coordinating the Fellows program for FFL, which was a really rewarding experience.

What are fellows?

In general, in medicine, fellows are physicians in training who are almost attending providers – those who you call “Doctor.” For the purposes of FFL, we want to make sure it is a multi-disciplinary team because that’s what we believe is most helpful for people and families with T1D. This could include people in training or newly licensed/certified who are Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES), diabetes psychologists, dietitians, nurses, doctors, medical students, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, etc., basically anyone who could be a part of your diabetes care team.

Why is it important for them to come to FFL?

So often in healthcare the providers are given a lot of information through lectures, case studies, maybe some hands-on experience in a clinic or hospital setting, but they are rarely able to learn the realities of life with diabetes. At FFL, they have an opportunity to watch a parent try to carb count what their toddler is going to eat from the buffet just to see that toddler refuse to eat after his/her parent has already given them insulin. They might see an adult with diabetes trying to troubleshoot a high blood sugar in real time – was it the Mickey Bars, a bad infusion set, stress, hormones?

We hope that with gaining insight into the everyday struggles with T1D management, the fellows will become more empathetic providers. Then, when we go to the doctor’s office we aren’t stressing as much about what they’re going to say to us, if they’re going to make us feel bad about our shortcomings. It’s already difficult to manage our glucose levels, and having someone on our team who acknowledges this difficulty and supports us without judgement can make all the difference in the world.

Hands-On Learning

When the fellows get to Orlando, we start right away with some hands-on learning from our generous fellows sponsors. This year, the fellows were able to get hands-on demonstrations of GVoke glucagon, the Dexcom G7 CGM, the Tandem insulin pump, the Omnipod insulin pump, Walgreens diabetes services, and Afrezza inhaled insulin. There were also discussions about CDCES’s role in diabetes management and TZield in delaying diabetes. All of these are aimed to ensure the fellows have a thorough understanding the latest and greatest treatments available for PWD.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

One of the other purposes of the fellows program is to ensure everyone understands how important it is to have a diabetes care TEAM versus just a patient and provider. Having a variety of providers ensures that the whole person (and family or support systems) is supported. For example, I’m a nurse and I am not an expert on nutrition therapy. When someone needs help beyond the carbohydrate counting that I’m familiar with, I am very happy to grab a dietitian for some help.

The fellows are always purposefully chosen to be from a variety of backgrounds, as are the speakers who come to Friends for Life. Yes, we do have doctors who come speak, but we also have diabetes psychologists, CDCES’s, research PhDs, parents of kids with diabetes, adults living with diabetes, etc. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and we at CWD fully embrace the whole village. We also want to make sure the fellows respect and understand that sometimes the best expert of someone’s diabetes is that patient or their parent. Since diabetes is so individual, we want to ensure they really listen to their patients and families.

We’re all in this Together

The connections that the fellows make at FFL are ones that they will not forget and will help them throughout their career. Most people who work in diabetes will tell you that we are all just here trying to make life with diabetes a little easier for everyone. The more people you know working in various areas, specialties and passions about diabetes management, the more you’ll be able to help your patients. I can’t tell you how often I’m texting with folks who I’ve met working in other areas of diabetes when I’m trying to help someone with diabetes.

Wonderful Experiences for All

Working with the fellows was a blast! I had so much fun getting to know everyone, learning about their areas of passion and focus in their career, helping connect them with other diabetes professionals who can support them in their careers going forward and hearing about their experiences at FFL. They were all very supportive of each other, and many of the fellows who attended this year have already asked how they can come back to support FFL in the future.

It looks like it’s not just the attendees who leave FFL feeling revitalized and grateful for their experiences.

Written and clinically reviewed by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES