A year ago this month, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that November was National Diabetes Month. I was just starting to understand that 29 million Americans are living with diabetes and over 86 million with prediabetes. I was just wrapping my brain around the idea that diabetes costs upwards of $245 billion to the US economy each year. And I certainly didn’t fully realize that during National Diabetes Month (and every other month of the year), there is a veritable army of physicians, diabetes educators, dietitians, and people living with diabetes themselves fighting to create meaningful solutions.
Now, as we celebrate National Diabetes Month 2016, not a day goes by that I don’t think about diabetes. That’s what the Health for America at MedStar Health fellowship will do to you, I suppose. My fellowship experience made me care in ways I didn’t anticipate about issues I previously knew very little about. Even more importantly, it empowered me with the tools, skills, and connections I needed to actually make an impact.
Though the 2015-2016 fellowship ended months ago, I’m still working alongside Dan Hoff (now a strategic advisor with our partners at Power Supply) to use those capacities and resources to continue developing WellRooted, the solution our fellowship class created in partnership with the MedStar Diabetes Institute.
So, as we celebrate this year’s National Diabetes Month, what have I learned about diabetes, about WellRooted, and about my own professional path?
You’ve got to take it one step at a time.
In diabetes management, you might start by learning the difference between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. In developing WellRooted, we started with a few recipes, tested by just a handful of patients. Now that we’re working to embed WellRooted into the fabric of diabetes care at MedStar, we’re taking it provider by provider, clinic by clinic, as we have continued to co-design an implementation and sustainability strategy.
It takes a village.
We heard many people with diabetes talk about the importance of friends, family, medical teams—even online social networks. Widespread support from stakeholders has been equally important in the development of WellRooted. In the past month alone, we’ve been in conversation with hospital residents, inpatient dietitians, social workers, MedStar medical groups, and more. WellRooted was featured on the MedStar Washington Hospital Center blog and in publications by MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, MedStar Health Research Institute, and others.
Don’t underestimate the ripple effect.
It’s not uncommon for a person living with diabetes to make lifestyle changes that positively impact the entire family. Similarly, when we began developing WellRooted, we couldn’t have known how the idea would evolve. We’ve helped open up a conversation about healthy eating at MedStar, for more than just patients and associates living with diabetes. Beyond offering the WellRooted service, we’ve supported the installation of Power Supply fridges at a few MedStar facilities, allowing associates to order healthy meals to their workplace. And we think the conversation is only beginning.
With all this in mind, it’s hard to avoid a quick plant-related metaphor: We planted seeds during our fellowship without fully knowing how (or if) they would sprout. Yet the tools and resources of human-centered design and lean startup methodologies, as well as the structure and mentorship provided by the fellowship, taught us how to cultivate that growth.
The same could be said for the impact of HFA on who I am and where I’m going. As I put the final touches on my applications for master’s in social work programs, I’m excited to see how these experiences will continue to grow in me. What will human-centered design look like in the field of social work? How can the network I’ve built allow me to integrate who I am as an artist with who I am as a healthcare professional? What greater impact can I have? I’ll keep the HFA community posted as I find out!
P.S. Even President Obama is acknowledging the importance of National Diabetes Month! Check out his Presidential Proclamation here.
Amanda Newman is currently a strategic advisor to Health for America at MedStar Health, as well as a 2015-16 HFA fellowship alumna. Check out more Alumni Voices blogs here.