The Master of Science in Diabetes Education and Management Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, started this past fall, delivers a challenging curriculum for diabetes educators to take their existing knowledge of the topic to the next level. Program Coordinator Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE, gives insights into how this one-of-a-kind scholastic opportunity can benefit diabetes educators in the field or those looking to enter this specialty.

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator,

While many ideas do not see the light of day, every so often, an idea comes along that is cultivated, shaped, and worked into a concrete solution. Such is the case with the new master’s in diabetes education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Several years ago a doctoral student at Teachers College suggested to her academic advisor that there should be a master’s program for diabetes education. That academic advisor took the genesis of that idea and developed it into the country’s first-ever master’s program in this health care specialty.  

The online program officially launched last September, and just finished up its first semester in December. There are currently 12 students—all existing diabetes educators in the field--who completed the semester--and there are more who will be starting classes later this month.

This program delves into various topics including everything from pathophysiology to behavior change. The courses are meant to challenge even the most experienced educators, and it looks to not only further teach students, but allow them to take the foundations of their learning and apply it in clinical practice. ( recently interviewed a student about her experience thus far in the program, and the story can be read here.) 

Along with the required classes, the program culminates with a Masters Integrative Project which the students must complete in order to graduate. This project is one that represents an area of interest for the student and integrates content learned throughout the program.    

The program’s coordinator, Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE, came onboard last year and she has taken the reins of the program working with both the students and fellow faculty. Dickinson was most recently the diabetes educator and program director for the Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Several years ago, she created the diabetes program and has provided diabetes education for community members ever since.

Dickinson (pictured, above) sees the role of the program to help advance the existing careers of educators, help those looking to break into the specialty, and create future leaders. spoke with Dickinson shortly after the first semester ended, and she provides her impressions of the program thus far, discusses its founding, and her hopes for how it will help to shape the diabetes education specialty. Can you provide an overview of the program and how it works?

This is a 36 credit interdisciplinary Master of Science program. Most of the individual classes are three credits. It is solely online and there are no on-campus course requirements for the whole program. It can be taken part-time or full-time, and courses go all year long with fall, spring, and summer terms.

We are geared for working clinicians who are currently in diabetes education or who want to be further involved in the specialty. Why the decision to create the program?

Dickinson: The intent was to provide a more professional and academic route to diabetes education, as opposed to getting a degree, getting a job, and learning diabetes education on the job.

It all started in 2005 when nursing education doctoral student and diabetes educator, Melissa Scollan-Koliopoulos, EdD, APRN, CDE, BD-ADM thought of the idea and shared it with her academic advisor, Kathleen O’Connell, PhD, RN, FAAN, at Teachers College. It was a conversation between Kathleen and Melissa, and Kathleen took the ball and ran with it.

Kathleen spent from 2006 to 2010 doing all the preparatory work, including hiring a consultant, Joyce Vergili, EdD, RD, CDN, CDE, to bring the program up to speed. She applied for and was granted a new program investment. Together, Joyce and Kathleen worked to develop the curriculum and get the program approved through the university and the state of New York. They also had to get approval for it to be an online program. Understanding the program has just gone through its first semester, what are your first impressions of how things have progressed thus far?

Dickinson: It has been an exciting first semester. We have an amazing group of students. We have 10 nurses and two dietitians. We have had comments from students that they feel they know their classmates better than they ever knew fellow students in a live, classroom setting. That is the intent of an online program; that it is intimate, despite the classes being taken remotely.

We discussed diabetes and its complications in depth in our “Pathophysiology of Diabetes” course. I think everyone discovered that there is always more to learn. All of our students are working in clinical settings. One of the recurring comments I have heard is that students are able to take what they have learned and apply it to their jobs. Learning is based on our course readings and our own experiences which we each bring to the discussions. I learn just as much from the students as they do from me. What is the criteria for entering into the program?

Dickinson: The best place to read all of the requirements is on our website. Essentially, applicants need a bachelor’s degree in a clinical discipline. Our requirements mirror the eligibility requirements for the CDE exam set forth by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). Our intent is that those students who are not already certified diabetes educators will be prepared to become or will go on to get their CDE. How are you handling future enrollment and have you enrolled more students into the program?

Dickinson: We are currently accepting applications on a rolling admissions basis, which means that where we are in the calendar year determines when a student would begin classes. If someone applied now, they could begin classes in the summer or fall.

Applicants are encouraged to complete the online application process as early as possible to be considered for limited Teachers College scholarship.

We have a group of students who will start the program this month. We receive inquiries about the program daily, and we are starting to have applicants from outside the U.S. Are there any modifications or changes to the program you are planning going forward?

Dickinson: Being a brand-new program, we are constantly making adjustments and improvements, especially based on feedback from our students and our experiences as faculty.

We hope to have even more applicants from various health fields, including pharmacists, exercise scientists, and any clinicians who are considering becoming a certified diabetes educator. The interdisciplinary focus of our program benefits all who are involved, and most importantly, the patients who receive care from our students and future graduates.

Teachers College is the graduate and professional school of education at Columbia University. Aside from the core diabetes coursework, students can choose their electives from a multitude of education-based courses throughout the school. The world-class faculty at Teachers College and the variety of perspectives in which education is taught, make Teachers College the perfect fit for our program. After all, diabetes and its management affect all aspects of life, and so does education!
What are your hopes for the program?

: My hope is that a Master of Science in Diabetes Education will be seen as the professional route to a career in diabetes education, and that graduates from the program will be the future diabetes education leaders in our country and throughout the world.