Diabetes Educator of the Month: Phyllis Furst

Phyllis Furst, RN, MA, CDE is a diabetes nurse educator in Long Island, New York. She is the Diabetes Education Director at the Endocrinology and Diabetes Associates of Long Island in Rockville Center, a 3 physician diabetes and endocrinology practice, and has had type I diabetes for 22 years.

The following are the nomination letters for Phyllis Furst sent to us from Jacob Woltz and Louise Uriarte-we will follow with our interview.

I’d like to nominate Phyllis Furst for Diabetes Educator of the Month. She treats patients with honor, integrity, compassion, and sensitivity.

I speak of a modern day Florence Nightingale.

My first visit to nurse Phyllis found me totally out of control, not really caring or concerned because I didn’t accept my newly acquired condition. In partnership with my endocrinologist and nutritionist, she made it clear in no uncertain terms that I had to take insulin injections.

My reaction? “No way-I’m out of here. I’m not jabbing myself for no reason-I feel fine-I retired recently and don’t need this.”

Phyllis told me that if I wanted to enjoy that retirement, I better get my act together. With a destructive attitude, I attended several educational sessions. She insisted, as a former educator myself, I had the ability to recognize the seriousness of diabetes and learn how to cope with it. Armed with the patience and compassion of a saint, a superior ability to teach, and an unexcelled and unequaled knowledge of the subject, she took me in hand.

Today, it’s like I’ve entered a second life. I eat better than I ever have, feel better than I ever have both physically and mentally, I’m enjoying retirement, and I’m totally under control. I no longer suffer thoughts of “diabetic paranoia,” and my attitude now is “big deal, I’m in control and accept it.” Considering the alternatives, which are far more serious, I guess I’m lucky. Lucky to have had Phyllis point my head in the right direction.

As the lovable Tevya said of being poor: “it’s no shame, but it is no great honor, either.” The same can be said of diabetes. I’m on a winning team, and it’s OK. I would consider it an honor and a privilege to have DIABETES HEALTH seriously consider Phyllis as an outstanding educator, respectfully submitted by an almost lost patient.

Jacob Woltz

I would like to thank you for your excellent publication, “DIABETES HEALTH,” and nominate Phyllis Furst as “Educator of the Month.” I am an old registered nurse (fifty years of nursing and very pleased with the advancements in the field). I am newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and disabled due to Muscular Dystrophy. Phyllis is my certified diabetes educator and is a caring teacher, guidance counselor, and friend who has helped make my life organizable and manageable. She has been a blessing to me and I feel that she is a very special person and does deserve the honor of being chosen as “Educator of the Month.”

Louise Uriarte

DIABETES HEALTH: How long have you been involved with diabetes care?

Phyllis Furst: I’ve been taking care of my own diabetes for 22 years, and then 12 year ago, when my daughter was 7, she was diagnosed with type I diabetes. This made me more committed to both my own therapy as well as hers and diabetes management in general. My daughter and I went through some really hard times trying to control her diabetes. I think it was much harder for her having a mom with high standards to live up to. However, after much growth and compromise now she’s off at college and doing great.

DI: What different work situations have you been involved in?

PF: I switched focus from family planning to diabetes education 11 years ago and started working as a diabetes nurse educator in a private endocrinology practice. Eventually I joined the Endocrinology and Diabetes Associates of Long Island, and now direct a multi-disciplinary diabetes education program.

I’ve always worked in an office-based situation where I can follow patients for years, which is very gratifying. You build personal relationships with your patients, based on understanding and trust. I believe it’s easier for people to get medical care and education in the same place, which provides a more comprehensive focus.

DI: What kind of patients do you see?

PF: I work with people with type I diabetes, ages 16 and up, as well as type 2’s and women who have gestational diabetes,

DI: What’s your favorite part of being involved with diabetes care?

PF: My favorite part is seeing the pictures of the healthy newborn babies born to my patients with type I or gestational diabetes, as well as congratulating patients when their HbA1c results have improved because of all their hard work.

DI: So what do you dislike about working with diabetes?

PF: That’s a tough question. I don’t really dislike anything about diabetes management. I feel very frustrated by the way our health care industry handles diabetes care. Patients do not always have the access to quality medical care and diabetes education services as their insurance companies frequently do not provide the necessary coverage. Although New York State passed the Diabetes Care Mandate in November, 1993, only 60% of our residents are eligible and most insurance companies have yet to reimburse for diabetes education and nutritional counseling.

DI: What’s your favorite diabetes book?

PF: “Psyching Out Diabetes: A Positive Approach to Your Negative Emotions” by Richard R. Rubin, PhD, June Biermann, and Barbara Toohey. It offers a really practical guide to dealing with the day-to-day stresses of living with diabetes.

DI: What tips do you have for people with diabetes?

PF: My favorite tip for patients is always Be Prepared. When you leave the house, you should carry all the supplies you need to continue your day to day life without any interruptions: a blood glucose meter, strips, treatments for low blood sugars, and necessary medications such as insulin and syringes. I tell people to think of it as a diabetes checklist which they should review prior to going out that day. Believe me, there’s nothing more unsettling than being in a situation where you feel your blood sugars dropping and you don’t have the supplies to treat it or a meter to confirm it.

I also advise patients to keep a written log of their blood sugars and review them on a regular basis. If any patterns of blood sugars which are lower or higher than their prearranged guidelines appear, they should call their physician or nurse educator and seek help. Early detection is the key to preventing complications.

DI: What tips do you have for diabetes educators?

PF: For diabetes educators I can’t emphasize enough how necessary it is to network with your professional peers and share not only knowledge but experiences.

DI: Do you have any closing comments?

PF: Working as a diabetes nurse educator is not just a job for me, it’s an integral part of my life that helps me enjoy the start of every new day. I really feel I’ve turned a lemon into lemonade.

To locate a Certified Diabetes Educator near you, call: 800-832-6874 (800-TEAM UP 4).

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