Pacific tackling diabetes crisis through education and community outreach
University of the Pacific graduate student Sandi Lara ’24 was drawn to a career in nutrition after seeing the impact of chronic disease in the small Texas town where she grew up.
“I wanted to find a way to make a difference and help prevent or lessen that,” she said. She is well on her way. Lara is researching diabetes management for her capstone project and will work in Stockton when she graduates, where 60% of the population has diabetes or prediabetes.
She is one of more than 50 students at Pacific—and the first in the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program—to focus on diabetes care as part of a scholarship program through the Abbott Fund, the philanthropic foundation of the global health care company Abbott, which covers 50% of student’s tuition.
The scholarships are part of a comprehensive approach Pacific is taking in partnership with the Abbott Fund, to combat the diabetes crisis through education and direct care, critical needs that are amplified in November as part of National Diabetes Month.
Educating future health care workers
Abbott scholarships are available in three School of Health Sciences’ programs: clinical nutrition, nursing and social work. The scholarships are available for students who specialize in diabetes education and management and recipients must commit to working in Stockton for two years after graduating.
“With this scholarship I can focus more on school and worry less about money and paying back those loans. It’s a really great opportunity,” Lara said. “I’m hopeful that once I graduate, I’ll be able to put what I’ve learned into practice and make a difference.”
The scholarships are intended to increase the number of health care providers prepared to care for people with diabetes.
“There is a tremendous shortage of health care workers in San Joaquin County,” said School of Health Sciences Dean Nicoleta Bugnariu. “With these scholarships, we can attract students who are invested in this community. We are intentionally building a pipeline from Pacific, ensuring people are getting the care they need.”
A Diabetes Essentials Certificate program offered through Pacific’s Benerd College was recently expanded to provide more education opportunities. The new continuing education courses are specifically designed for physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians and social workers.
“These online certificate programs are a flexible way for clinicians in our area and around the country to learn the latest in diabetes care and management,” said Benerd College Dean Patricia Campbell. “With more than 11% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes, it is crucial that clinicians are well-educated to ensure patients are receiving the best possible care.”
A certificate program also is available for non-clinicians to give students a foundational understanding of diabetes.
Pacific offers scholarships covering 100% of the tuition for students in the certificate program who work in Stockton and provide services for people with diabetes.
The Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy is helping address the diabetes epidemic by working directly with people in the community through clinics, prevention programs and other initiatives.
Since launching Diabetes Care Clinics in partnership with the Abbott Fund in 2022, the school has seen more than 1,400 patients and conducted more than 3,300 health screenings at 14 clinics in San Joaquin County.
Pharmacy students administer tests for glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure and conduct prediabetes screenings and immunizations and are frequently joined by student volunteers from the School of Health Sciences.
Other initiatives through the school of pharmacy:
- A diabetes prevention program was launched earlier this year. Participants at risk of developing diabetes attend meetings on healthy eating and active living.
- Beginning in early 2024, the school will help address the shortage in primary care physicians by offering intensive case management to at-risk patients.
- The school will also soon be a referral partner for the Abbott Fund’s Healthy Food Rx program, which provides home-delivered boxes of food with recipes to make healthy meals. A 12-month study released this month found participants were able to better self-manage their diabetes and improved their diets.
“The diabetes care and prevention programs offered through the school of pharmacy are making a marked difference,” said Dean Berit Gundersen. “With a shortage of health care workers in our region, our faculty and students are filling the gap to help people in our community live healthier lives.”