Glace Bay diabetes educators help patients build ‘confidence in themselves’

Leanna  MacDonald, Wendie Christoff and Karen Jessome are members of the diabetes education team in Glace Bay.
Diabetes educators Leanna MacDonald and Wendie Christoff, along with secretary Karen Jessome, are members of the diabetes education team in Glace Bay

For Wendie Christoff and her fellow diabetes educators, working with patients means giving them the right tools to stay healthy.

“I came from an area of nursing where it was all hands-on and I implemented the care the patient needed,” said Christoff, a member of the diabetes education team, which works at the Glace Bay Diabetes Centre. “But when I became a diabetes educator, it was a shift to the patient having autonomy and control of their care.”

The team feels a strong sense of responsibility to their patients, which for Christoff was instilled during her very first experience in the operating room, where she monitored breathing, took blood pressure – and tried not to panic.

“In my memory, I can still feel the chills that went all over my body. I don’t think I was ever the same,” Christoff said. “You are responsible for this patient if anything happens.”

Christoff’s role as a diabetes educator has challenged her to take her knowledge base from the operating room to the Glace Bay Diabetes Centre, in a new direction focused on empowerment.

More than 20 years into her role, she continues to build on her skills and develop new ways to engage with patients.

“I can teach them how to use an insulin pump, but it’s about listening to the patient, asking questions and finding the key words I can use to inspire them to make a difference in their diabetes care” Christoff said. 

Christoff’s “partner in crime” and teammate, Leanna MacDonald, developed a passion for the clinic 30 years ago in her first dietetics internship. The internship showed MacDonald how she can use her skills to educate her community and family members about the benefits of healthy eating.

“During my exit interview, I told them I absolutely love diabetes education and I know that’s where I want to be,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald’s dedication to diabetes education did not go unnoticed and she was offered the position a month later.

“I love seeing our knowledge translate to the patient. They feel better about themselves, educated about themselves and confident about managing their diabetes,” MacDonald said. “Patients once scared of the disease see their hard work in their blood work and it builds confidence in themselves.”

MacDonald and Christoff, along with the help of their admin Karen Jessome – a crucial part of their team – work together at the diabetes centre to address the specific needs of patients.

Together, they provide pivotal supports to their community and continue to build strong, meaningful relationships.

“Even at a grocery store, they look at what food I put in my cart,” MacDonald said jokingly. “But I think that’s why we lasted so long; we have a passion for it. We dedicate ourselves to it. We believe in it.”

Diabetes educators not only help build the confidence and skills for patients to self-manage diabetes. They also educate health care staff about new diabetes resources and other ways to support patients.

November 14 was World Diabetes Day and November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes educators, including Christoff and MacDonald, celebrated Diabetes Educator Day in Canada on Nov. 7.

To learn more about the Diabetes Care Program of Nova Scotia, please visit http://diabetescare.nshealth.ca.