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Nursing News HighlightsReal Nurses Real Stories

Empowering Diabetes Patients to Take an Active Role in their Care Management

Older female patient listening to a female nurse in scrubs
November is National Diabetes Month, a time to bring attention and awareness to the millions of Americans living with diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year, and a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report suggests more than 100 million U.S. adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes.

Helping to address the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. are Certified Diabetes Educators (CDE), who play a vital role in preventing and managing the prevalence of diabetes and often come from a nursing background.

Judith Aponte, Ph.D., RN, CDE, CCM, APHN-BC, FAAN, associate professor at Hunter College School of Nursing in New York City, N.Y., and editor-in-chief of theNational Association of Hispanic Nurses’ (NAHN) journal, Hispanic Health Care International (HHCI), treats diabetes patients and teaches diabetes management to fellow nurses.

We recently spoke with Judith, who was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) this fall, about nursing’s role in diabetes management and her experience as a researcher and nurse educator.

How did you become interested in nursing?
Dr. Judith Aponte

In a way, nursing chose me because I applied to nursing school, was accepted, and figured it was the direction I was supposed to take. But as I think about my childhood, I had a sister who had a disability, and throughout my entire life she was in and out of hospitals. When I really dig deep into who I am as a professional and individual, the healthcare profession chose me because it was something I wanted to contribute and give back to, given my experience with my sister. 

More specifically, how did you find yourself wanting to focus on diabetes?
I have always been interested in learning how people manage diabetes. My family is greatly affected by diabetes, as Hispanics are the third most affected ethnic group in the U.S. My mother, who is my champion, developed diabetes, and it drove me to learn more about the disease so I could help others. Generations of people are developing diabetes and some end up just accepting it as their fate.

My parents are originally from Puerto Rico, and because Hispanic groups are not homogenous, I wanted to learn more about statistics and diabetes management among Hispanic subgroups. My dissertation looked at Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans and that was really the beginning of my career doing research among Hispanic populations and subgroups affected by diabetes. After starting this research, I began to think that the credentials of CDE would only make me more credible among the patient population, so I decided to go for my certification.

Could you provide some more detail about your experiences working in this population?
The population I service most is an underserved and vulnerable population. When providing diabetes management and educational materials, I look to find out what is needed by those who are illiterate, those who probably don’t speak any English, those who only finished grade school, and those who are possibly uninsured. These individuals have a limited or lack of resources, and for me it is such a passion to help these people. I am honored to be their voice and advocate. It requires a lot of time to truly understand what this population needs, and that makes it very challenging for anyone, but also the most exciting and rewarding.

I feel so lucky that I am able to reach them where they are. I look like them, I speak their language, and I can understand their needs. When I approach someone, I immediately try to figure out how to assess their level of understanding and build from that. As a nurse, I am able to show that I care, which helps me build trust and break down any walls or barriers. Nurses are in a great place to reach people because patients truly trust us.

Can you tell us about your experience in NAHN and as the editor-in-chief of its journal?

Being the editor-in-chief of HHCI for the past three years, plus attending and participating in countless conferences and meetings, has opened the door to meet and collaborate with others researching Hispanic communities and issues affecting Hispanic populations. I have been able to reach out and recruit manuscripts for the journal, which publishes in both English and Spanish. Not only have I developed partnerships and collaborators locally and internationally, but the community has helped elevate the journal as a whole.

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