From Undergrad to Grad School

May 19, 2021
Claudia Lewis
Wake Forest University
Claudia Lewis was an active member of the Ohio State chapter for 4 years. Now she is a graduate student at Wake Forest University, where she is attending Physician Assistant school. Her favorite part about The Diabetes Link is all the connections she has built with other people living with diabetes, and the amazing experiences The Diabetes Link provides for students to be involved in conferences and retreats.

Undergrad is awesome. It is simultaneously challenging, exciting, exhausting, scary, fun, and four years of immense growth. You make wonderful friends, get the best support from your campus’ chapter of The Diabetes Link, and then, you graduate.

Moving away to college, I was undoubtedly nervous and excited, but very naive to the changes that moving away from home and into a whole new world would entail. Then, when I graduated college and decided to move away again for grad school, I was much more aware of the changes that laid ahead of me. I knew it was going to be very hard to be away from my family, friends, endocrinology team, my whole support system. For undergrad, I only moved 2.5 hours away from home, so my support system was all within reach. Now, I was going to move states away to start Physician Assistant (PA) school at my dream school, knowing no one.

The first mistake I made in college was trying to act like diabetes was not a big deal. I did not want to show my RA or my roommate how to use glucagon, I got whatever my friends got at the dining hall, and I refused to miss class or sit out of club lacrosse because of my blood sugar. There was no chance you would see my Dexcom or pump. I was so determined to be normal.

“The first mistake I made in college was trying to act like diabetes was not a big deal.”

Then, about 2 weeks into school, I was sitting alone in my dorm room, with a blood sugar of 36 mg/dL, exhausted, scared and defeated. I knew I had to open up about my diabetes and take care of myself if I wanted to be successful in college. So, when I started grad school, there was no chance I would hide my diabetes. I wore my Dexcom on my arm, pump out, showed my roommate my glucagon, and was very open answering any questions about my devices or my experience with diabetes. I instantly felt safer once someone knew I had diabetes.

I debated getting an endocrinologist in my new state, but I have such a good relationship with my endocrinologist at home, I wanted to continue seeing her. Now that telehealth is easily accessible due to COVID, it actually has been pretty easy setting up appointments virtually. My endocrinologist just switched my pharmacy orders to a pharmacy near my grad school and puts in standing lab orders to get whenever I make it back to my home state.

Something else that has been important in grad school has been filing accommodations with my school’s disability office. I did not use accommodations in undergrad, because our tests were not very long. However, in grad school, we can have multiple hour tests. It is nice that I can step away from the test to eat a snack, go to the restroom, bring water in, or take insulin – all without losing time on my test. I highly recommend setting up a meeting with the disability services at your school before starting!

I also checked The Diabetes Link website map to see if there was a chapter of The Diabetes Link at my grad school. I knew I needed some kind of diabetes support, and The Diabetes Link was a huge lifesaver for me in undergrad. Unfortunately, my grad school does not have a chapter (if I had more time, I would start one!). Instead, I joined a type 1 diabetes Facebook group made up of people in the area near my school. It is important to know someone who has an extra set of pump supplies, insulin, etc. in the area you live in, just in case.

Lastly, something that has been really important for my overall diabetes success in grad school has been talking with a therapist. We get free therapy sessions included in our tuition, which has been amazing. I asked at my school if they had any therapists that worked with people with chronic illnesses, and fortunately, they did! I consider myself a very lucky person with diabetes, with access to technology, insurance, education, and support. However, I still believe diabetes is very hard. Every day is different with new challenges; it is a full-time job that you cannot quit, and that can be exhausting. I know that if I want to be my best self, best student, and best future PA that I can be, I have to keep my mental health strong.

“Something that has been really important for my overall diabetes success in grad school has been talking with a therapist.”

I have certainly had my fair share of diabetes ups and downs in grad school. I broke my pump and did not get a new one for six weeks, all my CGM supplies were sent to the wrong address, I had a blood sugar over 500 the night before an exam due to a kinked pump site, the list goes on. I have learned that you must give yourself grace, take it day by day, and lean on your new friends and support system. You cannot be successful alone. You will always have your home support system, but you also need people who are around you and can be there for you quickly if you need help. Be open and honest, because the people who care about you really do want to help and make sure you are okay. Graduate school is a whole new level of difficult and demanding, and diabetes does not make it easier. Take care of yourself, use your resources, be open, and just enjoy the journey!

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