April 19, 2023

Nurse With Diabetes Aims To Help Diabetics Through A Second Career in Nursing

Nurse With Diabetes Aims To Help Diabetics Through A Second Career in Nursing

Rachel Zucker-Wong, a Diabetes Registered Nurse Specialist from San Francisco, CA, is a nurse on a mission. Not only is she a second-career nurse—she left an unsatisfying career in communications to pursue nursing—but she’s also working to share her own journey of being a nurse with Type 1 diabetes, and sharing awareness along the way. 

Rachel, who runs @t1diabeezy, an Instagram account dedicated to sharing her journey with diabetes and now, as a diabetes educator, tells Nurse.org that working with people with diabetes is her “true calling.” And now, as a newly-graduated RN, she’s making that happen.  

Dealing with Diabetes—And a Dream To Become a Nurse

After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at only the age of four (her mother insisted she get tested despite doctors assuring her nothing was wrong), Rachel explains that she never really felt a strong connection to the diabetic community, partly because she never knew a time when she didn’t have diabetes and partly because she was never really treated any differently by her peers. In fact, she didn’t even really know a diabetes community existed. 

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“I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t have to check my blood sugar before eating or carry a juice box with me when I left the house,” Rachel says. “For me, diabetes has always been a part of my normal, everyday life, and growing up I was raised to never feel different from any of the other, non-diabetic kids at my school.” 

Despite her early and rather positive dealing with diabetes, adding a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to her diabetes management sparked a desire to connect with others who used the technology. “I came across a couple of people on Instagram who shared about living with diabetes and decided to create my own diabetes-focused Instagram account,” she explains. “I quickly discovered that there’s a huge, thriving community of people with diabetes on social media.”

Her delve into the diabetes community on social media helped her connect with others locally who have type 1 diabetes, attend meetups, and even volunteer with local diabetes organizations across the Bay Area. “I quickly found that these meetups and events left me feeling energized and excited, and I knew that working with people with diabetes was my true calling,” Rachel says. 

She decided that she wanted to help others who also have her condition, which involves sharing her own story and journey with diabetes. “There’s just something about talking with people who really ‘get it,’” she notes. “It truly makes you feel seen and heard.”

A Second Chance 

To make her dreams of helping others with type 1 diabetes come true, Rachel decided it was time to go back to school. After graduating from the Dominican University of California with a degree in communications and media studies and working her way up to a role as Communications Director at a national law firm, Rachel was successful—but unhappy. 

So she decided to do something drastic about it: she quit her job on the spot in June 2020 during a global pandemic without anything lined up. “I had no idea what to do next, but I knew I had to make a change,” she recalls. 

After taking some time off to do some soul-searching—something she adds she feels “extremely fortunate” to have had the chance to do—she came to the realization that after a lifetime spent intertwined within the healthcare system and coming to find a connection with the type 1 diabetes community, it was time to step even further into the world of diabetes care. 

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the unrelenting nature of t1d has made me into the person I am today: compassionate, responsible, and able to get right back up when I fall,” she explains. “It’s also inspired my life mission to help others with diabetes.”

She made the decision to go back to school to become an RN and enrolled in an accelerated program to earn her BSN in only 12 months. Rachel jokes that while she often says that managing her diabetes is her “first full-time job,” going through a rigorous, 1-year accelerated BSN program soon became her second. 

Fortunately, thanks to her didactic courses being primarily online, Rachel did not have to focus on extra considerations for her diabetes until she reached her clinical rotations. While she admits that she did have some concerns over the long days and practical aspects like where she could store snacks and supplies, because diabetes is an ADA-protected disability, she registered with her school’s disability services office to ensure that any additional needs she had could be met.

She also took extra steps to communicate with her clinical instructors, informing them ahead of time that she was a diabetic and would be carrying additional supplies with her. She also notified the nurse she worked with, and her fellow students, and wore both a medic alert bracelet and a nurse pack that carried glucose tablets and snacks. And as a final preventive step, she set her insulin pump to “exercise mode” to help keep her blood sugars a little higher and help prevent hypoglycemia. 

Landing a Job as a Diabetes Nurse

All of Rachel’s hard work is finally starting to pay off: she just secured her first RN job working with diabetes patients as a Diabetes Registered Nurse Specialist. She took the same approach to her new role as she did in school by informing all of her new coworkers of her condition and being proactive to keep snacks and supplies on her. “It’s surreal to think that I’ll be starting my career in the field I went to nursing school to pursue,” Rachel comments. “I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity.”

The opportunity is also an important first step towards her eventual goal to become a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “A diabetes educator is exactly what it sounds like: a professional who is certified to teach people with diabetes how to best manage their condition,” explains Rachel. 

Part of Rachel’s passion to become a CDCES is that she knows firsthand how incredibly complex and individual type 1 diabetes is. She explains that just living with the condition takes renewed strength and resilience every single day. And with more than 42 different factors affecting blood sugar—from sleep quality to hormones, to carbohydrate type, to dehydration, to medication timing, to alcohol intake—she says even if two people with diabetes ate the same foods with the same insulins and the same starting blood sugars, they could wind up with completely different results. 

Living with a condition like diabetes takes incredible patience and understanding that it’s something that will need to be managed every single day. Rachel says that she “jumps” at the opportunity to educate others about diabetes and hopes to share not only her personal experience with the condition but also her professional knowledge as a nurse in the future. 

“I hope that having type 1 diabetes will allow me to be a more empathetic nurse for my patients with diabetes,” she notes. “I live with the highs and lows of type 1 diabetes every day and know first-hand how overwhelming the condition can be. But I also know that having a support system can make a big difference, and I want to help others live their best lives with diabetes - especially those who have not been afforded the same privileges as me.”

She is passionate about living her best life with type 1 diabetes and hopes to help others do the same. 

“Patients with diabetes are true warriors,” she says. “And everyone is capable of living a healthy, full life with diabetes.”

Images courtesy of Rachel Zucker-Wong


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