Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists
Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists
August 15, 2016
3 min read

AADE announces Lifetime Achievement Award winner

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SAN DIEGO — Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, an associate research scientist in the department of learning health sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School, received the American Association of Diabetes Educators 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award during the annual meeting.

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes individuals who exemplify the history of diabetes education and serve as extraordinary role models. Funnell has chaired the National Diabetes Education Program and been president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. Her research in the field of diabetes care has led to improvements in patient empowerment and self-care.

Endocrine Today spoke with Funnell about her journey as a researcher and educator and her challenges and accomplishments during the past 30 years.

What was the defining moment that led you to your field?

Like most important things in life, there actually wasn’t a defining moment. I began working at the Diabetes Research and Training Center in 1983 because the position combined clinical opportunities, teaching patients and health professionals and research. However, what is more important than a single moment, is why I have stayed in diabetes education and care for more than 30 years. The reason diabetes became my passion was the experiences I had with people who live with diabetes day in and day out — watching their struggles and strong spirits. I consider it a privilege to be part of their journeys.

What area of diabetes care most interests you right now and why?

Like everyone, I am very interested in the new technologies, but I’m most interested in those technologies that will help to ease the daily burden of managing diabetes, make our patients’ lives easier and improve their outcomes.

What has been the greatest challenge in your professional career thus far?

Bob Anderson and I introduced the patient empowerment model in diabetes in 1991. At that time, the prevailing wisdom was that people with diabetes should be adherent and compliant to their regimen and change their lives to fit with their diabetes. Some educators told us that we gave a name to their approach to patients, others embraced the ideas very quickly, and others thought we were pretty crazy and that it would never work. It was a huge paradigm shift and those are never easy. Fortunately, we had and continue to have the opportunity to do a variety of research projects to get the data we needed to help people look at diabetes education and patients in a different way.

What are some of the most exciting advances in diabetes care that you have been a part of?

I was part of a very early study of insulin pumps when I first started in 1983. I was also part of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial for a brief period. However, the most important and exciting advance I have seen is the change in attitudes toward people with diabetes and the way education is provided. We used to believe that if we gave people a lot of information about how their pancreas worked, they would make changes in their lives. When that didn’t work, we thought that we needed to focus on behaviors, but we found that wasn’t enough either. We now understand that we need to address the clinical, behavioral and, most importantly, the emotional side of diabetes. The recent research and improved understanding about diabetes-related distress, its impact on outcomes and strategies to address all aspects of a person’s life affected by diabetes has had a direct effect on diabetes education, our patients and their quality of life.

What advice would you offer to a student going into diabetes care today?

Be ready for change. The way you provide education, and the health care system in which you provide it, will continuously change. Don’t make yourself obsolete by getting stuck in one way of thinking. I would also encourage them to get involved in local and national organizations. It is hard to give up time with friends, family and things you enjoy, but strong involvement by educators has been critical for creating, building and sustaining our profession. I have found that with every volunteer opportunity, I have always gained more than I give. My best advice is to say, “Go for it.” There is no better job in the world than giving people help and hope. – by Cassie Homer

For more information:

Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, can be reached at University of Michigan Medical School, 225 Victor Vaughan Building, SPC 2054, 1111 E. Catherine St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2054; email:

Disclosure: Funnell reports no relevant financial disclosures.