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NEARLY 13% of Americans age 20 or older have diabetes-and 40% of them don't even realize they have it, according to a January 2009 report from the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. Worse yet, another 30% of Americans have prediabetes (that is, impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance or both, at levels that aren't sufficient to meet diabetes diagnostic criteria but are higher than normal).


Diabetes is more prevalent among men than women and among older adults as well as certain minority groups. Because diabetes affects so many Americans and carries the potential for such dire complications (cardiac and renal disorders, blindness, and neuropathy, to name a few), diabetes nurses are in hot demand.


A diabetes nurse specializes in the endocrine system and helps patients deal with the complications associated with diabetes, according to The American Association of Diabetes Educators has developed seven "Self-Care Behaviors" for diabetes patients: Eating healthfully, being active, monitoring blood glucose, taking medication, solving problems, coping, and reducing risks. Reading articles and posts by nurses in this field makes one thing crystal clear: The best diabetes nurses are knowledgeable, compassionate, and interested in helping patients learn to help themselves, rather than judging patients who are struggling to learn a host of new behaviors, keep up with often-expensive medications and treatments, and cope with comorbidities. If you'd rather educate than lecture, and like the idea of long-term relationships with your patients, diabetes nursing may be for you.


As an RN, you can advance your career (and probably earn more) by becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE); to be eligible to take the certifying exam, you must first work in a paid position educating patients in diabetes self-management for at least 2 years, with at least 1,000 hours of experience. You also need to be working at least 4 hours/week in diabetes self-management education when you apply for certification, according to the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. If you hold an advanced degree (CNS or NP), you may want to become board certified in Advanced Diabetes Management; the BC-ADM credential is administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

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