2011 AADE President Donna Tomky brings her vast professional background as well as her life experience of being a PWD, type 1 herself to the table as she aligns her goals with the associationís and advocates for educators everywhere.

By: John Parkinson, DiabetesCare.net Clinical Content Coordinator

Donna Tomky, MSN, RN, C-NP, CDE, FAADE, has acquired important and varied experience within the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE). Having worked in different positions and capacities at both the state and national levels, she ascended to her most important role - that of president of AADE in January.

She is in the top leadership role within AADE after having served in numerous positions at the national level including the associationís board of directors, the role of treasurer, and a member on the nominating committee. She has also served in the Utah and New Mexico chapters.

She heads a national organization that has nearly 12,000 members that includes registered nurses, registered dietitians, pharmacists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Serving a diverse membership, who have specific backgrounds and needs, the association works to serve as a resource for all members, no matter their specialty.

Just as many within the membership do, Tomky wears many hats professionally. Her responsibilities include being a nurse practitioner, diabetes educator, and information specialist in the endocrinology and diabetes department at ABQ Health Partners in Albuquerque, N.M.

DiabetesCare.net spoke with Tomky recently about the importance of AADE, how the association helps their members, and some changes the industry is seeing. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation.

DiabetesCare.net: Congratulations in taking over as President of AADE. What does it mean to you to assume this important role?

Tomky: Thank you. Iím excited because ascending to this role really provides me with a vehicle to express my passion and lead our organization in accomplishing our mission, which is really about positioning self-management as a key outcome in diabetes care.

DiabetesCare.net: Are there any particular initiatives or goals you would like to accomplish during your tenure?

Tomky: My goals are aligned with AADE`s strategic initiatives, which are focused in three key areas: public affairs, practice and research, and membership. Many things are changing in the healthcare community with the recent reform legislation and emerging models of care. A major focus for me and AADE will be working to provide diabetes educators with the tools, training, and information they need to take on new roles and duties that might emerge in the near future. In particular, we are looking at where the diabetes educator fits in the Patient-Centered Medical Home model, advocating for increased access to quality diabetes education at the national, state - and even global - levels, continuing to build the evidence base for diabetes education, and advocating for policies that will secure fair reimbursement for the services provided by diabetes educators.

DiabetesCare.net: How has serving in both the Utah and New Mexico AADE chapters helped to prepare you to be president?

Tomky: It helps me to appreciate the diversity that the states have to offer. Although they are close geographically, there are unique cultural, political, and regulatory differences. Every state has different populations and needs, and therefore the needs of our members vary state-to-state. Just recognizing that has helped me understand that our national organization must be flexible and responsive, and we must approach our projects from a multi-layered, diverse perspective.

DiabetesCare.net: Do you advocate for the membership to get more involved and serve at the local level of AADE?

Tomky: Absolutely. That is one of our goals at the national level, to get our members involved locally. We set up a new membership structure that allows members to form their own local network regardless of where they live. The more people get involved, the better they will be professionally. We learn from each other!

DiabetesCare.net: From an overall standpoint, what particular areas do you think educators are doing a good job in working with patients?

Tomky: Diabetes educators are a very passionate group of healthcare providers. What they are really focusing on is patient behavior change instead of only information exchange. Establishing good healthcare behaviors is essential to helping patients put a framework together that they can strive for in their day-to-day lives.

DiabetesCare.net: Conversely, what do you see as the greatest challenges to diabetes educators today in terms of patient care?

Tomky: One of the biggest challenges that educators face is that we are operating within an outdated reimbursement model that treats diabetes as an acute disease, rather than what it is, a chronic disease. This needs to change. Additionally, diabetes education is currently an underutilized benefit, so the challenge is getting the word out about the importance of diabetes education to the 25.8 million Americans living with the disease.

DiabetesCare.net: How has technology helped diabetes educators in continuing their own educations as well as aided patients manage their care?

Tomky: It seems like life just keeps getting busier for everyone - diabetes educators are no different. Professional development and continuing education is important to us, but we usually donít have time to attend classes. Thatís where technology has really helped us. With access to so many webinars and webcasts and online classes, we can get the education we need from AADE when itís convenient for us. Also, technology like electronic medical records and the AADE7 System have significantly improved the way we track patient health outcomes and clinical measures. As far as how technology has helped patients manage their own care, the list could go on. An impressive number of new products, meters, smart phone applications, and online resources have emerged recently that can truly help patients keep track of their progress toward their health goals. And, starting this year, many patients will be able to receive some of their diabetes education via telehealth. This was something AADE advocated for and weíre pleased to see it become reality.

DiabetesCare.net: With so much ongoing diabetes research in the U.S. and the ability of patients to go online to find research data, is it tough to keep up with the latest research findings so as to keep patients informed?

Tomky: It is always a challenge to keep up with new findings. AADE gives members a reliable source to filter the information and understand what is going on in diabetes care and education. Our website is robust and has a lot to offer members when they want to discuss some of the issues they are faced with. One of the most exciting aspects is a virtual network where educators can go online and access one of our Communities of Interest. They can post a question and get virtually immediate responses from their colleagues.

DiabetesCare.net: There are statistics from the ADA that show that Native Americans and Alaska natives were 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes compared to non-Hispanic whites and that 95 percent of these populations have type 2 as opposed to type 1. In looking at the local Native American populations of New Mexico, are you seeing a greater incidence there of type 2?

Tomky: We have looked at our own statistics in New Mexico and the rate of the rest of the nation, and it has been pretty much parallel. However, the age-adjusted death rate is actually higher in New Mexico at 28.6 percent as opposed to 23.3 percent in the United States.

A lot of New Mexican Native Americans live in rural areas, and I think that is an added burden to the type 2 population. We also have a healthcare shortage - an inadequate number of providers - in New Mexico. If we can reach people and give them what they need in terms of education and care, then the morbidity and mortality statistics should improve. 

DiabetesCare.net: In your practice in New Mexico, you wear many professional hats. Can you provide a sense of what a typical day entails for you?

Tomky: My typical day is spent in the clinic, so I need all these hats to be effective in what I do. I not only educate, but I manage patients too. I use the clinical and management skills of my nurse practitioner training to look at all aspects of the patientís life. My interviewing, educating, and motivating skills as an educator are very important because I am looking at patientsí behaviors and what they need to do or change on a day-to-day basis to improve their self-care. My technology skills are used when accessing electronic records or other documents and data that are available to me as an information specialist. It takes all three skill sets for me to function well (she laughs). What is really challenging is making sure patients have heard, understood, and are motivated to make changes with their self-management.

DiabetesCare.net: As a person with type 1 diabetes yourself, how do you take your personal perspective about the disease and incorporate it into your patient care?

Tomky: I self-disclose to my patients that I have type 1, and I talk about what it is like to live with this complex disease on a day-to-day basis. And because of that, patients often say, ëwow at least someone understands what Iím going through.í That helps to build the trust of that patient, and consequently, they know the advice that I impart to them is practical. Most patients really appreciate knowing that I have diabetes because often they say that they have never had a healthcare provider with first-hand experience who understands the challenges they face every day.

To read more about the latest educator news or to learn the latest happenings going on at AADE, go to their site: www.diabeteseducator.org.

Originally posted by DiabetesCare.net on April 22, 2011.