Ah… the bittersweet feelings of college graduation. I know for me personally, and I’m sure many can relate, this was a time of relief and pride after completing a rigorous 4-year degree, however, it was also a frightening reality check as I attempted to understand my future role as a working adult whilst maintaining proper control of my diabetes. As the reality of entering the real world set in, there was some part of my brain that just couldn’t shake the image of 45-year-old me chugging OJ and pulling out fruit snacks across the table from suit-clad businessmen during an important work meeting. Okay… so maybe my imagination had gotten a little out of hand, but, deep down I knew that I had to find a way to fit diabetes into my professional life without sacrificing my health or career goals.
A big part of my transition actually began during college well before graduation. I was thrown into a population of 30,000 + students from a high school class of 120 and expected to handle a pre-med schedule and diabetes all at once. This took me A WHILE to get the hang of but ultimately laid the foundation for my adaptability. Thankfully I found the UMass Amherst Chapter of CDN my sophomore year and was able to compare notes with fellow students on the best ways to deal with diabetes management without sacrificing too much of my precious time.
The day before I graduated college, I had an appointment with my endocrinologist. After explaining my career goal of becoming a physician, she advised me to develop a routine as quickly as possible. Since I was a day away from receiving my Bachelor’s degree, I brushed this advice off. I had been hearing this my whole diabetes life. “You need a routine,” my mom would say when I consistently forgot soccer snacks in high school. “Just make a routine,” my fellow CDN members advised when I inquired about handling mealtimes, exercise, and school stress. Here was my endocrinologist now giving the same advice as if this was the golden ticket to diabetes care.
Whether I wanted to listen to this advice or not, I had, in fact, been developing new routines for a long time. By identifying areas of concern and tweaking them with small changes, I had inadvertently become a routine-forming professional before finishing college. While it would be nice to simply reiterate “MAKE A ROUTINE” and be done with it, I’ll enlighten you on how I was able to address necessary changes over the last year.
Amongst my anxiety for how I was going to manage diabetes when I first graduated, I failed to create a plan and naively assumed that like college, the real world would offer downtime in which I could use for diabetes care. As a working adult, you have to create time for this. Instead of sleeping in 5 minutes before you have to leave for work, get in the routine of waking up with enough time to check a blood sugar, take insulin, eat a healthy breakfast, and prepare any backup supplies you might need for the day. For the last year, I have been working as a medical scribe in a busy surgical department and at one point studying for the MCAT 25+ hours per week. It took one incident of my Dexcom “Urgent Low” to sound in the patient room to realize that I was not coming to work prepared to handle my diabetes. If I wanted to achieve balance and control in my life, I needed to suit up for battle. Luckily with this realization, I adjusted and now keep a full sleeve of glucose tablets in my pocket and backup supplies in my purse for any situation that might arise. I also purchased a smartwatch to display Dexcom, which has been an immense help in preventing highs and lows before they get too severe without constantly taking out my phone or meter. Who wants to open their phone to an 85 double arrow down right before a meeting?!
Whether it is school, a new job, or even changing diabetes technology, transitioning into unfamiliar territory can be intimidating in terms of diabetes management. By no means is there a “one size fits all” answer, but a careful evaluation of what ISN’T working can start the process change. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but I do know that life requires many variations of transition, which is complicated even further with diabetes thrown in! After a year of living and working on my own, I continue to adjust my daily work and diabetes routine. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I now feel confident that I can continue to manage diabetes and a career.
Editor's note: download CDN's Off to Work guide for more tips and tricks for the transition to the workplace!