Does Your Educator Have a Clue?

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I spent so much time watching the Olympics, I almost didn’t get my blog entry done this week. Fortunately, on Monday morning FedEx delivered a new book to my door, and I felt I had to share it with you. I didn’t write this one—well, I did write page 44—but it’s still a really good book.

It’s called 1000 Years of Diabetes Wisdom: Inspiration and insight the world’s leading diabetes professionals gained from their patients. You know someone wasn’t thinking straight when they included me in the “world’s leading diabetes professionals,” but it still feels good. (DSM blogger Amy Campbell is in there, too.)

BTW, the “1000 years” in the title doesn’t refer to ancient wisdom. It refers to an average of 20 years experience times 50+ contributors.

As I read through the book, which is only 112 pages long, I did feel inspired. A couple of times I was moved to tears. Although the main audience for the book is professionals who work with diabetes, I feel, speaking as a person with chronic illness, that a lot of readers with diabetes would enjoy it too.

For me, there was also a warning in these pages—don’t necessarily trust your health-care provider to listen to you. I always love stories where people overcome hardships, where people change and heal. This book is full of them. But the interesting thing was that it was usually the providers (diabetes educators, dietitians, nurses, doctors, psychologists) who needed to change more than the patients.

Many of the stories follow the same plot. “I thought I knew what was best for my patients. I never thought to listen or to ask what was important to them. Things weren’t going well until this certain patient taught me the importance of putting the patient at the center of the treatment plan.”

Where Do They Teach This Stuff?
Now keep in mind that the educators in this book are wonderful people—caring, smart, and creative, “the world’s leading diabetes professionals.” If they couldn’t see how patients’ needs, wants, and values were as important, or more important, than the provider’s skills, what chance do the rest of us have?

It must be that the schools of medicine, nursing, nutrition, and the other health-care programs teach professionals to be arrogant. They teach students not to listen. Science thinks it has all the answers. If there weren’t something wrong with us patients, we wouldn’t be here. It’s professionals’ job to show us right from wrong.

Kate Lorig, the founder of the Self-Management Movement, once said that diabetes educators are “toxic.” She meant that educators poisoned patients by taking away their self-confidence and belittling their importance. I don’t think that’s quite so true anymore, because many of them have changed like the ones in this book. The people who assembled the book—Marti Funnell, a Certified Diabetes Educator from Michigan, and her associates David Marrero, Robert Anderson, and Melinda Maryniuk, are the ones who started the “empowerment” approach to chronic illness. So things have gotten better, and they get some of the credit.

But, I’m guessing most everyone reading this has had experience with educators, doctors, nurses, and others who didn’t listen and didn’t ask the right questions. What do you think? Are things changing? Are health-care providers becoming less like preachers and more like coaches? Let us know by commenting here.

If you want this book, it’s published by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and costs $19.95. You can buy it from the ADA online here.

Now I can get back to the Olympics. I just wish I had cable.

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