Becoming a Diabetes Health Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

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A diabetes health counselor's mean annual salary is around $59,000. Is this wage worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a diabetes health counselor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Diabetes Health Counselor

Diabetes health counselors can help people reduce their risk of contracting diabetes and advise diabetics in making healthier life choices. Continue reading to learn about other pros and cons of this career, so you can decide if it's a good fit for you.

Pros of a Diabetes Health Counselor Career
Can help diabetics improve their health*
Higher-than-average salary (about $62,000 as of 2015)***
Might not need graduate education****
High job stability due to the disease's prevalence (more than 25 million people suffer from diabetes)*
Type 2 diabetes is preventable**

Cons of a Diabetes Health Counselor Career
Must typically receive certification as a diabetes educator****
Possible exposure to diseases from working in a healthcare environment****
Irregular hours****
Diabetes is not reversible, which can sometimes make treating patients difficult**

Sources: *Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, **National Diabetes Education Program, ***PayScale.com, ****May 2012 CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com job postings.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Diabetes health counselors, more commonly called diabetes educators, work with individuals suffering from both diabetes and pre-diabetes, a condition where the blood glucose levels are high, but not quite at diabetic levels. According to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), part of your job may consist of working with other healthcare professionals to create, manage and teach diabetes education programs (ndep.nih.gov). This can provide patients with information about what diabetes is, how they can manage their glucose levels and how they can take steps to improve their health. You may also teach other staff how to identify people who could be at risk for diabetes, so they can obtain professional help.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), diabetes educators work with people individually or in groups to help them make changes in their diets and fitness regimes to improve their health and manage the disease (www.innovations.ahrq.gov). Having diabetes can lead to other health problems, such as blindness, heart disease and kidney failure. You can teach patients how to monitor their blood sugar, lower their cholesterol levels and lose weight to avoid these additional health problems.

Career and Salary Information

According to AHRQ, more than 25 million people have diabetes. The NDEP reported that there were 17 million people with type 2 diabetes as of 2006 and that there are about a million new cases every year. The NEP reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study that indicated that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in pre-diabetics, which has produced a high demand for diabetes counselors.

Employment opportunities for diabetes health counselors were expected to grow 21% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With a need for increased health care services and efforts to decrease healthcare costs, employment is expected to grow for all health educators. According to the BLS, the 2014 median annual salary for a general health educator is around $50,000. Payscale.com reported that certified diabetes educators made a median annual salary of around $62,000 as of 2015.

Career Requirements

Education

To become a diabetes counselor, you usually must start by earning a degree in nursing, nutrition, dietetics or counseling. The most common route is to become a registered nurse (RN), which requires you to earn at least an associate's degree in nursing and pass an exam. Undergraduate training as a nurse can provide you with experience working with a variety of patients and fulfilling basic nursing responsibilities. You'll explore pharmacology, ethics and methods for promoting general health.

Certification

You must also typically become a certified diabetes educator (CDE) by passing the exam offered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (www.ncbde.org). To be eligible for the exam, you must have two years of professional experience in a healthcare field. You also must meet a lengthy set of educational requirements, which vary depending on your specialty. For example, you might meet the eligibility requirements by holding an RN or registered dietitian title or by earning a master's degree in social work. You also must complete at least 15 hours of continuing education before applying to take the exam. Through this training, you could acquire the following skills, which could prepare you for a career as a diabetes counselor or educator:

  • Familiarity using nutrition in diabetes management
  • Methods for helping diabetics control their glucose levels
  • Strategies for identifying diabetes in its early stages, when it's manageable and reversible
  • Ways to integrate lifestyle changes that can improve health
  • Listening skills
  • Teaching skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers are looking for diabetes counselors who have advanced training in diabetes education and a background in nursing. They want someone who can take the initiative to create a program that can help their patients and their staff. They also expect applicants to communicate well with patients to help them understand what they need to do to improve their health. The following job postings were seeking diabetes educators in May of 2012.

  • A pharmaceutical company in Florida wanted a certified diabetes educator to teach care providers, staff and patients about diabetes management and different products that help treat symptoms. The employer required that applicants have a bachelor's degree, CDE certification, communication skills and presentation skills.
  • A health services facility in New Mexico searched for a certified diabetes educator who could counsel employees about pre-diabetes and diabetes care, teach classes, set treatment goals and improve disease management. The employer wanted applicants with credentials as either a licensed dietitian or an RN, a bachelor's degree, CDE certification and at least three years of experience in diabetes care. Someone who can communicate well, knows how to monitor glucose and can take initiative was ideal.
  • A university health system in San Antonio, TX, advertised for a diabetes educator who had at least a bachelor's degree in nursing and had completed a dietetic internship. Responsibilities included creating a diabetes education program and encouraging staff development.
  • A healthcare organization in Florida looked for a certified diabetes educator who had at least an associate's degree in a healthcare field, an RN license, CDE certification and two years of experience working with diabetics. Their responsibilities included working with patients to help them change their lifestyles and improve their health.
  • A university hospital in Missouri wanted to hire a diabetes educator to improve patient care for diabetics, incorporate updated research into the diabetes education programs and manage programs. The employer was looking for someone who had a bachelor's degree in nursing, CDE certification and two years of clinical experience.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Earn a Master's Degree

Earning a master's degree can be an expensive decision, but it can also give you advanced skills and help you stand out as a diabetes educator or health counselor. Since you need to pursue continuing education to earn your CDE status, you could potentially complete a master's degree that also includes courses in diabetes, so you can earn credit for the certification while also pursuing graduate education. You can earn a master's degree in diabetes education and management, or you can complete a master's degree program in nursing with a specialization in diabetes nursing, which can provide you with practical experience managing diabetics. You'll learn how to test blood sugar, recognize symptoms, perform evaluations, complete outcome assessments and teach people about diabetes. You can also complete field experiences and conduct diabetes research.

Develop Related Skills

Another way to stand out is by developing related skills that can be useful as a CDE. For instance, taking classes in fitness, nutrition and wellness can give you a different understanding of how the body responds to disease and how to keep it healthy. You could also create nutrition and fitness plans, which could help you do the same for your future clients.

Alternative Career Paths

Nutritionist

If becoming a diabetes health counselor doesn't seem like the best job for you, but you want to help people reduce their risk of disease and live healthier lifestyles, you might consider becoming a nutritionist. These professionals use modern knowledge of food and wellness to create meal plans and teach classes directed at choosing healthier foods. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment would increase by about 20% for nutritionists between 2010 and 2020, which was greater than average. These workers earned a median annual salary of approximately $54,000 as of May 2011 (www.bls.gov). You must complete an undergraduate degree in nutrition and earn a license to practice.

Health Educator

If you're looking to deal with people's general health rather than a particular ailment, you might want to become a health educator. The BLS stated that health educators only need a bachelor's degree, but additional certifications, such as a certified health education specialist title, could help you find jobs. Health educators create educational materials and programs that familiarize people with common diseases and preventative methods. These professionals made a median annual salary of around $48,000 as of May 2011, reported the BLS. The BLS projected that employment would increase by 37% from 2010-2020, which was much faster than the average for other jobs.

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