In July, you heard from my colleague, Eric Racine, about Partners in Patient Health and the Forum we hosted. One of the attendees, Michelle Litchman, is a nurse practitioner and a rising star in the diabetes online community (DOC). I chatted with Michelle about how she is redefining the nurse practitioner role by going outside the clinical setting and embracing the diabetes community both online and off.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in nursing, and what sparked your interest in diabetes?
A: I started my nursing career right out of high school. My anatomy and physiology teacher was a nurse and she encouraged a lot of us to apply for nursing school, so I was actually accepted into the nursing program when I was 17. I did the two-year RN degree and then earned my Bachelors. After that, I decided to get my Masters to become a nurse practitioner. I was taking a pottery class during the program and met an endocrinologist and his nurse practitioner. They invited me to do some rotations with them and they were some of the best rotations I ever did. I quickly realized that the way I viewed diabetes in the hospital setting was very different from the way I viewed it in an outpatient setting.
Q: Your Diabetes Mixers have become pretty popular in Utah. Can you share a little more about them?
A: Sure! A Diabetes Mixer is a social networking event for adults with type 1 diabetes, in which people can learn from talking to one another and sharing their experiences. It combines all the elements of a party, motivational speaker and health expo. We invite different pharma, device and other diabetes related companies to come and provide information, but it’s more than just medical information. There is also live music and free food, with carb counts. Right now, they have only been held in Utah, but we are definitely trying to expand Diabetes Mixers to other parts of the country. We have also thought about holding a mixer for those with type 2 diabetes and other age groups as well.
Q: How did you get involved with the DOC?
A: I discovered the diabetes online community after I had helped put together the first Diabetes Mixer in my town. After seeing people interact at the Mixer, I realized how important it was for those with diabetes to connect with one another and to share experiences and stories. Mike Lawson, a featured speaker at the first Diabetes Mixer introduced me to TuDiabetes and other DOC sites. I became fascinated with how prevalent the diabetes online community was, and how important it was to the healthcare system.
By reaching out to people to be featured guests at the Diabetes Mixer like Mike Lawson, Ginger Vieira, and Chelcie Rice, I was also introduced to other people within the DOC. I also learned about DSMA and met people through the Tweetchat and live radio program. So, it was all a matter of reaching out and gaining connections through people I already knew.
Q: You’re currently working on your PhD. Can you tell me what you’re studying and what you plan to do once you graduate?
A: I am a PhD candidate at the University of Utah working on my dissertation. I am currently looking at the diabetes online community and trying to determine if there is a dose effect, which looks at how intensely or how frequently someone is engaged with the DOC, to determine if there are different health outcomes associated with that. I’m also researching how people, specifically baby-boomers, are using the diabetes online community and how they think they will use the community as they age. After I complete my PhD, I’ll hope to incorporate a clinical piece that I love so much with some of the new research I’m doing now. I am also very interested in teaching. I’m trying to find a way to do it all!
Q: You represented nurse practitioners at Sanofi’s Partners in Patient Health Forum. What was that experience like?
A: What I really liked about the Forum was the ability to meet and engage with other patient advocates. I had the opportunity to learn how people in the healthcare industry are engaging with different types of patients and how they use different marketing techniques to ensure their patient population gets the best services in the most effective way.
I definitely think forums are important to me as a healthcare provider. While at the Forum, I was able to meet people I had followed through the DOC, and learning about the passion of their work really solidified the thought that we need to be working together. Patients and healthcare providers are all trying to work for a common goal: diabetes awareness and education. I think every voice needs to be at the table and the patient voice definitely needs to be present. As healthcare providers, we need to be aware of the patient’s needs and wants, and not just assume we know what they need.
Thanks so much to Michelle for her story and passion for diabetes outreach. It’s very impressive what she’s accomplished already, and we are excited for what’s in store for her future.
Sr. Director, Partners in Patient Health
Disclosure: Michelle Litchman received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.