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An Interview with Stacey O’Donnell, a Diabetes Nurse Educator

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stacey O’Donnell, R.N., C.D.E., has been a nurse educator at Joslin Diabetes Center for the last five years. She graduated from Curry College in 1996 and spent three years in the cardio thoracic and two years in the vascular intensive care units at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital before joining the staff at Joslin. Stacey also worked summers at Camp Joslin and the Clara Barton Adventure Camp, camps for children with diabetes.

You went from an inpatient situation caring for cardiac patients to an outpatient counseling situation for people with diabetes. What’s special about working with this population?

When you work outpatient you really feel as if you can make a difference in someone’s life. In the hospital people are so sick they aren’t really able to process much in the way of education. With diabetes, education is so important. For example, when you teach people how to adjust their insulin, they’re able to make decisions on their own that have an impact on their A1C and ultimately their quality of life.

Many patients have never seen a nurse educator. What can they expect when they come to an appointment?

The first visit is all about assessment. We ask them what they know about target blood glucose (sugars), how they respond to highs and lows, if they have a plan for sick days. Our job is really to give them the tools to navigate on a daily basis with this disease.

What makes a successful visit?

Seeing someone who comes in and isn’t doing well and is able to leave with a plan she feels good about.

How often should someone see a nurse educator?

Of course the frequency of visits is all based on the patient’s needs, their level of control and what they are trying to achieve. I have some patients at greater risk—their A1Cs are quite high who come more regularly—and others who just check in once a year. But at minimum patients should come once a year. Blood glucose control can change dramatically in a year and there are always new skills to learn.

You manage the pump and CGM (continuous glucose monitor) programs at the Joslin. How have these tools helped patients achieve better control?

Pumps can give patients a lot more flexibility; they don’t have to eat on a schedule or take extra injections for snacks (they still have to give insulin) and they can use the features on the pump to exercise without always having to eat.

One of the best things about CGMs is their ability to reduce patients’ anxiety. Knowing that the machine is going to alert you if you have low blood glucose in the middle of the night can make sleeping much more restful. And seeing how glucose reacts to different amounts and types of food can sometimes change patients’ behavior for the better.

Most patients see a primary care physician to treat their diabetes and few offices have diabetes educators. How would a person find one?

The American Association of Diabetes Educators has a web site that lists educators by location.

Any last tips you want to give?

Caring for your diabetes should be a piece of your life, not your whole life.

Page last updated: August 30, 2014