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A day in the life as a Diabetes Educator: Amy Mcilhatton

Image of Amy delivering a DESMOND course

Amy Mcilhatton is a Diabetes Educator within the Northern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland. In her day-to-day role she is a facilitator for the DESMOND (Diabetes and Self-Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed) course and is currently undergoing post-graduate study to then be able to educate healthcare staff who care for those with diabetes in the community.

What my role involves

A good portion of my role involves the delivery of the DESMOND course which aims to support individuals with type 2 diabetes, both newly diagnosed and longer-term cases.

This course takes place over one day in a group setting (9:30am-4pm) and over the six hours attendees get the opportunity to learn from other participants’ experiences and through the content we provide. The sessions tend to be quite interactive but in a relaxed and informal setting. The courses tend to take place in different venues within our Trust area.

I thoroughly enjoy my day at work and the structure of it. I usually arrive an hour before delivering the course to ensure that all required equipment is in place. My co-educator and I will set out the room, distribute participant packs, prepare the food model table, display magnetic boards and flip charts – most importantly we ensure the tea and coffee area is well set up!

I like to then individually welcome all participants and relatives (should they choose to bring them along), in a relaxed way.

What people learn on the DESMOND course

DESMOND topics cover introductions, hearing participants’ stories, the glucose story, monitoring, carbohydrates, reflection, possible long-term effects and how to reduce the risks.

We also cover physical activity, a section on the food group FATs, producing self-management plans and then finally looking ahead to future care and any questions the participants may have.

It’s important to note that participants will receive a pack with all of this content, so they don’t have to try and remember it all then and there!

Fellow providers and I of course understand that sometimes participants may not feel it is the right time for them to attend the DESMOND course and that’s no problem as they can join us at any point in their diabetes journey. We’re really pleased in that the course has received a lot of positive feedback from those taking part.

When the course finishes for the day, my co-educator and I will then re-pack all resources and clean the room and equipment. Our organised and helpful administrative colleagues then complete the process of who has attended and any follow-on actions.

My role will be to eventually start to educate healthcare staff in nursing homes about diabetes. As part of this I am currently undergoing a post-graduate health and wellbeing in diabetes diploma which has so far, hugely enriched my knowledge of diabetes.

This has not only improved my understanding on medications for diabetes but also the importance of health literacy, education and using appropriate communication skills to support people living with diabetes and carers or relatives. I believe this has helped me greatly in continuing to think about the bigger, holistic picture to person care and their health beliefs.

Adapting to challenges

I started this role in July 2022 and throughout I have seen restrictions changed depending on the infection control protocols – this can therefore affect how many participants can attend each course and if a relative can attend due to room numbers.

This is something my co-educators experienced quite a bit a few years back during the Covid pandemic and the programme was able to adapt in response to these challenges.

Working alongside the DESMOND head office in Leicester, the co-educators were able to develop and facilitate a virtual version of the course for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. The virtual version offers exactly the same content as our face-to-face courses and carries through the relaxed and interactive setting for participants to learn and share experiences.

Now we are able to offer DESMOND face-to-face or virtually, depending on the participants’ preferences and they also have the follow-on option of the MYDESMOND web-based learning tool.

Best for people with diabetes, best for our team

What matters in my role, is undoubtedly the person with diabetes, their relatives and our team. I believe that the person with diabetes should have the highest quality education possible and that we as educators enjoy our work in supporting people living with diabetes.

We are always striving to keep up to date with current guidance, we adapt to change well and we have regular team meetings. We also go through a quality development process with the Leicester department who assess how we educate and once we pass this, we then have to be re-accredited every three years.

I am incredibly proud of the DESMOND Northern Health Social Care Trust team – recently we attended the DESMOND awards in Leicester in October of last year and received joint runner up ‘highly commended’ for DESMOND team of the year 2023.

Within diabetes care, I would love to see a smoother, streamlined process where all people with diabetes have the same services across the country. I believe as healthcare professionals, we are all doing our best and strive for what is best for the person with diabetes, their relatives, the staff and the organisation as a whole.

Combining knowledge and empowerment

For people living with type 2 diabetes, my advice would be that you are more than welcome to come to our course and if you have been before, you can absolutely attend again.

If you have any concerns around your diabetes, please contact your healthcare professional immediately. Make use of reliable, evidence-based services such as the Diabetes UK website, GPs and community pharmacists.

A diagnosis can feel overwhelming, but with knowledge and empowerment, you may feel more confident and positive in managing your condition. We always say "small steps make a big change”.

You can be referred to the DESMOND course via your healthcare professional, but you can also refer yourself. Please do get in touch with our team by calling 028 2766 1478 or emailing

On a personal note: what advice would you give yourself if you were starting out now in your first job?

I think it’s important to remember that you cannot learn everything in one day and to give yourself grace. It takes time and experience, and you will always have the support of your fellow colleagues.

A job in the world of diabetes can be demanding, but also an extremely rewarding career choice. I love that we can empower people living with diabetes and help support them and is certainly a positive outlook.

The views and opinions expressed in the ‘views’ section of this website belong solely to the authors of each article. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Diabetes UK as a charity or any of its staff members.

If you are a healthcare professional based in Northern Ireland and would like to write for News & Views, please contact with an outline of your idea.

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