Empowering Health and Social Workers in Diabetes Care

Abbott's Future Well Communities program is filling a diabetes treatment and education gap and helping build health equity
Feb 22, 2022 9:35 AM ET

Alexis Jones would describe herself as a "change agent."

A woman living with diabetes, she’s watched many of her own family members struggle with the disease over the years. Now, she’s on a mission to educate her community about the risks of the chronic condition that impacts nearly 60% of adults in her hometown of Stockton, California.

In December 2021, the mom of six graduated with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and was one of the first students to finish a new education program – a sub-specialization in Diabetes Care and Management – created by the University of the Pacific (Pacific) with support from Abbott’s philanthropic foundation the Abbott Fund. Jones was also one of the first to graduate as an Abbott Fund Scholar, receiving a Fund scholarship for her education. For her and many of her classmates, their motivation starts with building health equity.

"The number of African American women who are licensed clinical social workers is extremely low, and I hope to change that statistic by being a role model for others," said Jones. "My kids are my motivation. It means everything to me for them to see me obtaining my masters and showing them that anything is possible."

As Jones can attest, diabetes can be hard to manage, and often requires a lot of support. Many communities lack the proper resources, funding and health providers to meet the need for this specialized type of care. Jones sees herself serving an important role – a bridge to help build trust with people living with this challenging chronic condition.

"As a Black woman with diabetes, it really gives me an advantage to work with people in the community with diabetes," Jones said. "I actually understand when patients tell me 'I don't want to take my blood sugar at work.' I'm able to identify the stigma through lived experiences.

Filling a healthcare pipeline gap

Launched in 2019, Abbott's Future Well Communities program is taking a new approach to addressing health disparities and advancing health equity in Stockton by providing targeted solutions to the complex health and social challenges that people with diabetes face in their day-to-day lives. An important part of this work is partnering with Pacific to help mobilize more people like Jones who are dedicated to fighting the diabetes epidemic in Stockton. The result is a diabetes-focused curriculum that will train and help place healthcare workers in the area. Specifically, Abbott and Pacific are working together to:

  • Create four new educational programs: The partnership has already launched two diabetes certificates for clinicians and non-clinicians to help them better understand and manage diabetes, and a diabetes track within the university’s Master of Social Work program. And coming soon is an Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN) program in Spring 2022.
  • Award scholarships: Stockton residents, like Jones, who are committed to working in Stockton after completing the program are eligible to apply for Abbott Fund scholarships. These scholarships help to ensure area workforce needs are met, with services provided by people from the communities they serve.
  • Provide clinical placements: For the programs requiring clinical hours, students can fulfill their requirements in designated Future Well Communities priority neighborhoods through service with partner organizations. This ensures students are receiving professional training and first-hand experience, while also helping to provide vital services to under-resourced communities.

These new programs have been recognized for their benefits for aspiring diabetes-focused health workers. The clinical certificate program recently received national accreditation from the Accreditation Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Making connections in the community through training

Community Medical Centers (CMC), a Stockton medical clinic with health centers serving San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo counties and Future Well Communities partner, collaborated with Pacific to offer clinical placements for MSW students like Jones enrolled in the diabetes track. With CMC, students can put their coursework into practice by educating patients around nutrition, providing peer support in managing the disease prognosis, and working with patients to identify and reduce barriers that are preventing good health.

In December 2021, Pacific graduated its first cohort of 17 master of social work students of which 10 completed the Diabetes Care and Management program with Abbott Fund financial support. After completing their studies, many MSW graduates are transitioning into full-time careers providing supportive diabetes services to patients in the Stockton community, including some accepting full-time positions at CMC.

Adding diabetes training for better care

Sandra Leon, a CMC medical provider for seven years, enrolled in the MSW program to advance her community health skillsets and practice. "Having a program like this will allow me to be an advocate for patients, especially in the Hispanic community where there are those language barriers," said Leon.

Leacha Clark, a recent graduate of the program and Abbott Fund Scholar, also sees herself as an advocate for her patients. "I think that once we have more people from minority groups that specialize in diabetes and have the background and education, then we can help to break the stigmas," said Clark. "The difference that I hope to make in Stockton is to increase awareness about diabetes, especially within the African American community.

I want to be someone that people can come to and feel comfortable to talk about their diabetes journeys.

Clark, Leon and Jones are just a few of the change agents who are dedicated to building healthier communities within Stockton. With more than 80 students currently enrolled in the certificate programs and the Diabetes Care and Management sub-specialty within the MSW, the program is positioned to help strengthen the pipeline of future clinicians and support services for specialized diabetes care.