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Giving School Nurses a Better Understanding of Diabetes

By Benjamin Page , ,

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As the mother of a student with type 1 diabetes, Greta Parker understood the health safety concerns of parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District. But she also understood the practical limitations of underfunded schools with limited resources. “People expect school nurses to completely understand type 1 just because they’re a nurse, but they get very little training about diabetes,” says Parker, a former chairwoman of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Los Angeles market’s Safe at School committee.

To address this knowledge gap, Parker joined forces with Cynthia Muñoz, PhD, MPH, a pediatric psychologist with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. What began as a series of local workshops supported by the ADA has grown into a countywide resource to teach school nurses about diabetes care and management. “The information that we provide broadened over time,” says Muñoz. “As we became better acquainted, we had more inside information about the challenges children experience.”

Led by medical professionals and guided by the principles and resources of the ADA’s Safe at School campaign, these workshops provide school nurses with information to help them become advocates for students with diabetes. While much of the focus is on medical needs, the workshops also place a strong emphasis on empathy.

“I ask the school nurses to think about any time they’ve had a difficult night where they didn’t get sufficient rest,” Muñoz says. It’s part of a strategy that aims to help care providers understand what students with diabetes—and their parents—go through. “The difference between many of us who might not get a good night’s rest and families with diabetes is diabetes never stops,” she says. “We know that it’s not just a night of poor sleep. It’s sometimes night after night after night, and that can really wear on people.”

Filling A Need

Diabetes education for school nurses is a nationwide need. As nurses in Colorado, Kathleen Patrick, RN, NCSN, FNASN, and Leah Wyckoff, BSN, RN, NCSN, recognized the lack of consistent diabetes care in schools in their own state. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, many school nurses were unfamiliar with diabetes and uncomfortable administering insulin. Rural areas in particular saw a substantial gap. “There had to be a huge culture shift,” Patrick says.

Through the Diabetes Resource Nurse program, part of the Colorado Kids With Diabetes Care and Prevention Collaborative, Wyckoff and Patrick partner with other qualified nurses to provide diabetes-related consultation and guidance to school districts across the state. If nurses untrained in diabetes have questions about caring for a student, they can reach out to one of the program’s nearly 30 available nurses for advice.

“Nurses have someone they can turn to,” Patrick says. “These are school nurses working with school nurses, so they know the challenges of that environment.”

Perhaps most important, the collaborative established statewide guidelines that are now available through its website (coloradokidswithdiabetes.org). With trustworthy diabetes information at nurses’ fingertips, parents can rest assured that schools have the knowledge needed to care for their children.

“If a family moves from Denver to Grand Junction, they know the standards will stay the same,” Wyckoff says.

The founders of both the California and Colorado programs hope their methods can serve as models for other states. “We’ve gotten great support from our local providers,” Wyckoff says. “Having those providers come together and agree on standards is an amazing thing.”

 

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