In the United States, millions of people are living with diabetes, and some don’t even know it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 37.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes — 8.5 million of whom are undiagnosed. What’s more, the CDC estimates some 96 million American adults have prediabetes.
These numbers are alarming and signal a pressing need for healthcare professionals to help diabetic patients monitor and manage their conditions. Diabetes management nurses have specialized training to help patients and their families make educated decisions about their health. They also interact with physicians to provide information about patients. Many diabetes nurse specialists are family nurse practitioners (FNPs) who work with endocrinologists to care for diabetic patients.
Individuals interested in this rewarding role should consider the education and experience that can lead to a career helping diabetic patients live full lives.
What Does a Diabetes Nurse Specialist Do?
Diabetes management nurses have numerous responsibilities to ensure the care and treatment of their patients. They use a variety of methods to do so.
By teaching patients about their disease, diabetes management nurses prepare patients to handle the condition on their own through a combination of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices. These self-management lessons are especially important for Type 1 diabetics because many Type 1 patients are first diagnosed when they are children.
Diabetes nurses often recommend nutrition therapy to treat Type 2 diabetics because the condition is frequently caused by unhealthy dietary choices. For Type 1 and 2 diabetics, a healthy diet can help keep blood glucose levels stable and reduce the risks for hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes.
Diabetes nurses manage the condition by prescribing insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent and are prescribed insulin in varying doses, either via daily syringe injections or via an insulin pump. Type 2 diabetics have the option of taking insulin orally.
Because diabetes nurse specialists are often FNPs, they administer their form of care over the course of a patient’s lifetime.
Steps to Become a Diabetes Nurse Specialist
Becoming a diabetes nurse specialist means acquiring the knowledge and skills to administer care and educate patients on managing their condition.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree in nursing offers a foundation that typically includes knowledge of biology and chemistry.
Step 2: Earn Licensure
Becoming licensed as a registered nurse (RN) requires passing a licensure exam offered by an organization such as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree
Pursuing an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a post-master’s nursing certificate can prepare nurses for advanced and specialized roles, such as that of FNP or diabetes nurse specialist.
Step 4: Gain Experience as a Registered Nurse
RNs should log at least 500 hours working with diabetic patients before applying for diabetes nurse specialist positions, according to Johnson & Johnson Nursing. Nurses can start gaining this experience before enrolling in an advanced degree program.
Step 5: Gain Certification
While not strictly required, gaining nursing certification as a diabetes nurse specialist demonstrates expertise in the subject. The Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) offers Board Certified-Advanced Diabetes Management (BC-ADM) certification to advanced-level, masters-prepared practitioners who pass a specialized exam.
Diabetes Nurse Specialist Skills
FNPs who specialize in diabetes management need practical expertise and knowledge to provide effective care for their patients. The necessary skills for diabetes management nurses include:
- Analytical skills: Diabetes management nurses must process and analyze patient information to make appropriate adjustments for diabetes care. This includes changing insulin dosage, prescribing thyroid medication, adjusting target blood glucose goals, and updating insulin-to-carb ratios.
- Communication skills: Diabetes management nurses should be able to clearly communicate any treatment changes to patients, other nurses, and doctors at their practice.
- Attention to detail: Even the slightest changes in bloodwork or blood glucose levels can have a huge impact on a patient’s overall well-being, so diabetes nurses must closely monitor health levels and trends.
- Interpersonal skills: Diabetes management nurses frequently discuss patient information and treatment methods with patients and other healthcare professionals. They should be able to do so in a tactful and professional manner.
- Leadership skills: Being able to direct other nurses and medical staff in the treatment of patients is key for diabetes management nurses, especially those in leadership positions who directly influence the decisions and actions of other nurses.
- Broad knowledge base: Most newly diagnosed diabetic patients will have lots of questions about their condition. Diabetes management nurses should be able to provide patients with disease-management instructions and answer diabetes-related questions about insulin delivery and blood sugar management.
Diabetes Nurse Specialist Salary
Diabetes nurses earned a median annual salary of about $71,000 as of September 2022, according to the compensation website PayScale, with the top 10% earning about $91,000. Several factors can influence salary levels, such as years of experience and job location.
Because many diabetes nurse specialists are also FNPs, the field offers promising job opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of all nurse practitioners — including FNPs specializing in diabetes management — to grow by 46% between 2021 and 2031.
Play a Key Part in Providing Important Care
With the number of patients diagnosed with diabetes increasing each year, the demand for diabetes management nurses will continue. For nurses who want to enter a well-paying job while making a difference in the lives of diabetic patients, a career as a diabetes nurse specialist can be a rewarding choice.
Duquesne University’s online post-master’s nursing certificates can provide you with the tools to succeed in this increasingly important field. The program’s Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner certificate specialization is designed to help you gain expertise in care delivery strategies that can help patients manage their diabetes.
Find out how Duquesne can prepare you to make a real difference in people’s lives.