Diabetes Basics
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The Members of Your Extended Care Team

The roles of pharmacists, nurse practitioners & specialists for life with diabetes

I know from personal experience that managing diabetes can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Part of the job description involves assembling and getting to know the professionals on our primary healthcare team. In addition to this core group, there are a number of other healthcare professionals we may call upon to play supporting – but no less important – roles.

Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants

While some people see a medical doctor as their primary care physician (PCP), a person’s PCP may actually be a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician’s assistant (PA). Although some may refer to these providers as doctors, they are not physicians. (You may want to ask your primary care provider what his or her background is so you can clarify their area of expertise and what to call them.) In general, however, physicians, NPs and PAs in the primary care role may perform similar duties.

Nurse practitioners are nurses who have an advanced degree and training in diagnosing and treating disease. This year, the level of education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) is being raised from a master’s degree to a doctorate. Some NPs already have or are pursuing the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, and can or will be called “doctor.”

Physician’s assistants are licensed medical professionals who work with physicians to diagnose and treat disease. In addition to primary care, NPs and PAs have other specialties and may perform many roles.


For some people managing diabetes, medications will play a critical role. A pharmacist can help educate consumers by discussing prescribed therapies – how they work, potential side effects to watch for, dosages and interactions with other drugs. Some pharmacists may be Certified Diabetes Educators* (CDEs) and can refer people living with diabetes to other members of their healthcare team.

Clinical exercise physiologist

Exercise and physical activity are an important part of managing blood sugar levels, and there are healthcare professionals who may help people safely work fitness into their diabetes management plan. A clinical exercise physiologist (CEP) focuses on helping people use exercise to achieve or maintain target blood glucose levels, increase energy and feel better. Other exercise professionals on the team may include certified clinical exercise specialists and certified registered clinical exercise physiologists.

Physical and occupational therapists

Diabetes tends to promote inflammation, which may increase the risk of frozen shoulder, trigger finger and other joint issues. Should these challenges arise, a physical therapist (PT) can work with a person one-on-one to help them reduce pain and increase mobility, and advise them on safely practicing therapeutic exercise and movements at home or in the gym. An occupational therapist (OT) can recommend strategies to help a person get back to doing their everyday activities at home and on the job.


Our feet are complex structures that must bear the weight of our entire body yet remain flexible and resilient enough to keep us walking with ease. Podiatrists are doctors of podiatric medicine (DPM), who specialize in the care of the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg. Some podiatrists perform foot surgery or may specialize in diabetes-related foot care. Podiatrists can fit people for orthotics, which are shoe inserts that may help with proper foot positioning, support and balance.

Optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians

Optometrists specialize in primary care of the eyes. They can test for, diagnose, treat and manage vision changes. They are not, however, medical doctors. Ophthalmologists, who are doctors, diagnose and treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery. Opticians are technicians trained to fit people for glasses, and are not healthcare professionals.


And don’t forget the dentist! Taking care of our teeth and gums is an important part of diabetes management.

Taking care of ourselves by making healthy food choices, being active, taking medications, checking blood glucose levels, staying hydrated, getting enough and good-quality sleep and taking time for ourselves may limit our need for some of these experts. But if we do have an injury, illness or other issue, it is worth knowing who may help get us back into the activities that we enjoy and that help us feel good.

Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE*, is the author of People With Diabetes Can Eat Anything: It’s All About Balance. Jane is excited to be working with the next generation of diabetes educators at Teachers College Columbia University, where she is the program coordinator for the solely online Master of Science in Diabetes Education. Dickinson is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

 *“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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