Spotlight on Services: Diabetes Education

UConn Health diabetes educators
From left: UConn Health certified diabetes educators Lori O’Keefe-Fomenko, Rebecca Santiago, Linda York, and Jean Kostak (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

Diabetes educators are an essential part of the care team for people with diabetes. The UConn Health Diabetes Education Program includes nurses and dietitians – some of whom are certified as diabetes educators (CDE) – as well as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, exercise specialists, social workers, and other health care professionals. All work together to ensure the best care and management of diabetes.

Jean Kostak, diabetes education specialist
Jean Kostak, UConn Health Diabetes Education Program coordinator

Jean Kostak is a diabetes education specialist and the program’s coordinator.

How do CDEs fit into the larger care picture?

CDEs are health professionals who work with providers to support patients’ day-to-day efforts managing their diabetes. We can be registered nurses, registered dietitians like myself, pharmacists, exercise specialists or social workers. We take the time to get to know the patients, help them develop a plan, and give them to the tools to take control of their diabetes. Part of that is, as our name suggests, educating patients about their type of diabetes and how it progresses through their lifetime.

What’s the most common question you get?

“What can I eat?” We probably get that the most. We work with patients to individualize their meal plan to help them meet their blood sugar goals and lose weight if needed. Often times they can still enjoy their favorite foods, in reasonable moderation. If you think about it, it’s really not that different than those don’t have diabetes, because really we all should be careful about what – and how much – we eat.

Rebecca Santiago, diabetes nurse educator
Rebecca Santiago, diabetes nurse educator
Linda York, diabetes nutrition educator
Linda York, diabetes nutrition educator

How do you help with the self-management of diabetes?

Good lifestyle choices go a long way in managing diabetes, and the cases of people who have prediabetes, good lifestyle choices can slow down or even prevent progression to type 2 diabetes. This includes of course exercise. We work with patients to teach them how to fit physical activity and exercise into their daily routine regardless of their restrictions. We educate them about their medication and how to take it correctly. And we can assist with choosing the right blood glucose testing monitor and show them how to use it and interpret the results.

Why is this an effective care model?

Lori O'Keefe-Fomenko, diabetes nurse educator
Lori O’Keefe-Fomenko, diabetes nurse educator

Managing diabetes can be stressful. Adding to that stress is, if not managed properly, diabetes can lead to other complications. When you have someone to work closely with as you face these challenges, you can build confidence in you ability to self-manage you diabetes. And that can help you feel your best. We have an ongoing relationship with our patients. They don’t have to go through it alone, which can make a big difference in not letting their diabetes get in the way of leading a full, healthy life.

What are the qualifications of a certified diabetes educator?

We must prove our knowledge and skill in diabetes self-management education by completing at least 1,000 hours of patient education and pass a challenging certification exam. Patients can be sure that when they’re working with someone with CDE credentials, they’re in good hands.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year, National Diabetes Education Week is Nov. 4-10.

Learn more about diabetes care at UConn Health at