Extra support for students dealing with diabetes

April 24th, 2015
Starting university is a big change for anyone. And it's even more difficult for students who have to manage an ongoing health issue at the same time.

However, help is at hand for students at Victoria University who are tackling diabetes.

Victoria University's Student Health now runs specialist diabetic clinics for its students, and is the only university in the country to do so.

Student Health nurse Catherine Nelson is one of the founders of the diabetes clinics.

Catherine, who has a special interest in working with students with ongoing conditions such as diabetes, began working at Victoria after completing her Masters at Victoria's Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health.

As a Student Health nurse, she quickly noticed there were increasing numbers of students with type-1 diabetes and had concerns about how many were struggling to manage their health on top of the stresses of university life.

"Their care was all over the place, seeing different doctors, or missing appointments because they clashed with lectures or were in the holidays. It was getting complicated for them, and it can be easy for someone to lose confidence when it becomes difficult juggling health, academic work, flatting and part-time work too."

Catherine talked with Dr Thaw Naing, the then Medical Director of Student Health, who encouraged her to launch a service especially for these students.

"We started holding afternoon clinics, which three or four students attended, and began working with Kirsty Newton, who's a diabetes clinical nurse specialist at Capital & Coast District Health Board and now helps run the clinics."

Catherine and Kirsty were also keen to get an endocrinologist on board. They approached the DHB's Diabetes Clinic and were grateful to receive the assistance of its clinical leader of diabetes and endocrinology Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs.

The associate professor regularly visits the clinic on campus throughout the year. Two Student Health GPs—Dr Cathy Stephenson and Dr Liz Walters— are also part of the diabetes team.

The service has since expanded to include students with type-2 diabetes. "You hear about this worldwide epidemic of type-2, and it's happening here, too," says Catherine.

Catherine says good day-to-day management of diabetes has lasting health benefits. "Research has shown that managing diabetes with reasonable control over a few years has a legacy effect over the longer term, which will better protect them in the future."

In addition to the clinics, Student Health hosts a range of social events where the students learn health management techniques and meet others who also have diabetes. "We have coffee groups, evening talks with dieticians, as well as sessions on female-specific issues such as pregnancy and contraception in relation to diabetes."

Alcohol is another big issue for people managing diabetes, she says. "It can be a real hazard, particularly for first year students who are often drinking alcohol for the first time. So we have beer tasting events where we look at safety around alcohol.

"If people who have diabetes are drinking, they're at high risk of having a low blood sugar, which could leave them unconscious. Other people might just assume they're drunk but they could be in a diabetic coma, so we talk about how to avoid that."

Catherine enjoys her work with the clinic. "It's a really nice way of nursing," she says. "I get some lovely emails and cards from the students and their parents who are thrilled to know there's somebody looking after their son or daughter, and taking it seriously."

Provided by Victoria University

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