If you’re like me then you have type 1 diabetes and are unapologetically passionate about advocating for a cure and working tirelessly to improve quality of life for those living with diabetes. If you’re like me then you realized your career path was one in a diabetes related field. If you’re like me then one of the biggest concerns you had once deciding to pursue an opportunity in a diabetes related field, was, how would it be working on diabetes issues daily, while having diabetes? Would you be too close to the issue? Would it be difficult to separate personal experiences from work assignments? Would I become burned out?
Here are my thoughts on what I’ve learned so far since getting my internship through Students with Diabetes.
First, this is where your passion lies. Never second guess yourself on that fact. Rather, focus your efforts on how to grow professionally and learn as much as you can both on this specific topic, but also other topics -develop your skill set. At my internship I am given many of the “diabetes” assignments. But I am also asked to work on projects for non-diabetes related clients. I welcome those opportunities with open arms. The advocacy, digital, research and communication skills that I have learned on diabetes-related work, are transferable to many other areas within the field of health. The more diverse skill-set you possess, the more future opportunities you are creating for yourself.
Secondly, it is important to separate yourself from your work. Yes, we may fall into the population that you are doing work and advocating for, but your lived experiences are not the same experiences as everyone in the diabetes community. Learn from your community, be a good listener, ask questions. The course of our disease and our treatment plans are as varied as snowflakes. Sometimes I even forget that I have diabetes and choose to work on my assignments as if I am new to the topic. There is always more to learn about your disease. When you separate yourself from your disease, you will be surprised at what you will realize you did not know about diabetes. Become a student of the disease.
Thirdly, with that said, you have been given a unique opportunity to use your own lived experience to provide knowledge and insights on what living with diabetes is like. Beyond the text book definitions. You’re a patient, with a perspective, so when working with the patient perspective and voice, draw from your knowledge. Similarly you have access to connections in the diabetes community, just by living the life you have be given. You have a gift to use your diabetes to effect positive change, use it.
Fourthly, I think it is especially important to take care of your diabetes. Sometimes I am so involved in my work I put my own diabetes tasks on hold. Keep yourself healthy. Otherwise you won’t be able to succeed professionally, let alone offer productive information to your work on diabetes. Have an outlet for your own frustrations with diabetes to prevent that from bubbling over into your work. The whole reason you have found yourself at a job in a diabetes related field is because of your ability to have a positive outlook on your life with diabetes. But of course it is not sunshine and rainbows all the time, the key is to not let that overcome you and resent your job.
Similarly, much of the research I have done has only further illuminated the hardships of diabetes and made me learn about issues I may not have realized existed. Some of the hardships do not impact my life at all. It is easy to get angry and fired up over those injustices and complications of diabetes. But instead of letting anger take over, channel that fire within you to create more positive change, and be the best intern or professional you can.
Lastly, Diabetes is a complex disease. Everyone with diabetes is different. Your experience is only one experience of many. The complexity of this disease is the reason you even have a job in the diabetes related field in the first place. If there was a one-size-fix-all for everyone with diabetes, and their voices did not matter, and everything was fine, there would be no need for you to pursue a career in a diabetes related field. It is important to remember sensitivity when working on these issues within this community.
This gift has allowed me to turn my setback into an opportunity. A gift to turn this chronic illness into a chronic passion. This gift has allowed me to use leadership, public speaking, and research skills to help advocate for people with diabetes. I have been given a gift of a positive attitude. I have been given the gift of someone believing in me. I have been given the gift of believing a cure will come, and I can be apart of making that a reality. I am just a diabetic girl in a diabetic world.