Diabetes Educator of the Month: Sue Thom

Susan Thom, RD, LD, CDE, is a dietician and diabetes educator in Cleveland, Ohio. She runs a private practice called Diabetes Associates with her partner, an RN, and is involved in many local programs as well as national ones. Susan Thom is also the incoming president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).

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

Susan Thom: Since I graduated from college, about 15 or 16 years ago. But I’ve had diabetes since I was 14, so I guess you could say I’ve been involved since then.

DI: Where do you work?

ST: I have a private practice in Cleveland called Diabetes Associates. I’m in practice with Sally Lybarger, a nurse who also has diabetes. We’ve been doing this for 6 years last month.

DI: What kind of patients do you see?

ST: Oh, we see all kinds of patients: gestational diabetes, type I’s, type 2’s…doctors refer a lot of people to us, some people look us up in the phone book because they want to have better control of their diabetes. We run a lot of programs: in-patient programs, trainings…. We have a program at a local college called “Diabetes Education Update.” We also do programs for diabetes supply companies. We do a little bit of everything. I’m consulting once a week with a local hospital that doesn’t have a diabetes program, and I’m setting one up. We both write for newsletters, and in fact I just finished my first book.

DI: Oh, really? What’s it called?

ST: It’s a book for teenagers called “You’re in Control: A Teen’s Guide to Diabetes,” which I co-authored with Jean Betschart, RN, CDE. It should be coming out this fall.

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

ST: I don’t know, I enjoy teaching. I didn’t think I would, but I do, and I’m good at it. I guess I hate the paperwork; I like to work with people but I know the paperwork is important, too. I also hate the fact that so many people are missing out on diabetes care because many doctors won’t refer their patients to CDE’s (Certified Diabetes Educators).

DI: What’s your favorite part of being a CDE?

ST: The teaching, being around people; I’m a people person. I also enjoy my activities with the AADE (American Association of Diabetes Educators). I get energized just by being around all these creative people.

DI: What’s your favorite diabetes book?

ST: It’s kind of funny, but my favorite is the very first book I read when I was 14 and was first diagnosed with diabetes: “The Peripatetic Diabetic” by Barbara Toohey and June Biermann. I read it three times, cover to cover, and was really impressed by all the information it contained.

DI: Do you have any tips for diabetes educators or people with diabetes?

ST: Try to be as scheduled as you can be: schedule time out for yourself. I have a general philosophy: If you work hard, play hard to achieve a balance. I work hard, sometimes through the weekend, but I play hard too. If possible, get a job doing what you like to do. I know that some people can’t, but it reduces stress, and that helps with blood sugar control.

Another tip is to get to know your body. People need to know how their body reacts to different factors. Doing imagery and relaxation techniques have helped me; I know all my red flags for hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Many people don’t know their bodies at all.

DI: You’re a dietician, do you have any food tips?

ST: Yes, don’t be overly rigid with your diet. I eat what I want in moderation; moderation is the key. I’m a vegetarian so I can have dessert; I gave up red meat for dessert.

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