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Jim Schuler

The D-Link support group run by UB medical students helps alleviate the isolation that teens with diabetes often experience, says group member and UB senior Jim Schuler.

UB Medical Students Support Teen Diabetes Patients, Gain Experience

Published April 14, 2014

The D-Link support group, founded and run by University at Buffalo medical students, has been helping adolescents and young adults deal with the complexities of Type 1 diabetes since 2006.

“From the first year the students arrive at medical school, they really are doing much more than sitting in a classroom. They’re doing a great service for our community.”
Lucy D. Mastrandrea, MD, PhD
D-Link faculty adviser and associate professor of pediatrics

Open to any Western New York Type 1 diabetic aged 12 to 20, D-Link provides peer interaction and fosters informed, pro-active disease management.

Med Students Gain Experience, Research Knowledge

In the process of helping the teens, medical students learn to understand the disease from the patient perspective.

They also keep up on diabetes research, in part through regular journal club meetings.

In addition, medical students can gain research experience as well as clinical training at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo (WCHOB), where most D-Link members receive care. The hospital is the only tertiary care center for children with diabetes in the region.

Helping Community, Engaging in Hands-On Learning

With 100 new cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosed annually in Western New York, the free support group fills an important need.

Any topic related to life with diabetes and adolescence is up for discussion; recent sessions focused on snacking challenges and driving with diabetes.

In addition to informal bimonthly meetings, the group hosts an annual research presentation with an endocrinologist to inform members and their families about advances in Type 1 diabetes treatment.

Organizers also plan trips to sports events and other recreational outings for members and their friends.

“It’s really inspiring what these medical students do in running the group and also how the members themselves help each other out,” says D-Link’s faculty adviser Lucy D. Mastrandrea, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics.

“From the first year students arrive at medical school, they really are doing much more than sitting in a classroom,” says Mastrandrea, who also is an attending physician in endocrinology at WCHOB.

“They’re doing a great service for our community.”

Support Especially Important for Teens

The support group provides teens with opportunities to establish connections with peers in similar situations.

“It’s nice that these teens with Type 1 diabetes have an environment where they can talk about what it’s like with each other,” says fourth-year medical student Ellyn Smith, a senior facilitator with D-Link.

“While most teens were diagnosed when they were younger, the developmental complexities of adolescence may change the way they deal with their disease,” says Mastrandrea, an attending physician in endocrinology at WCHOB.

“They may pay less attention to figuring out how much insulin they need based on the carbohydrates they eat,” she explains. “Sometimes, they really do not want to have to deal with the disease and how different diabetes makes them from their peers.”

Peers Help Ease Isolation Caused by Diabetes

Diabetes can be very isolating, says D-Link member Jim Schuler, a UB Honors College senior who plans to enter the medical school in the fall.

“D-Link lets you know there are other people out there who have gone through it and who can help you through it, so your isolation doesn’t get you down,” says Schuler, also a facilitator for the program who helps medical students run the meetings. 

He notes that even family members can’t relate to a diabetic the way others who have the disease can.

“I could tell a relative that my blood sugar was through the roof this morning, but they don’t really know what that means,” he says. “But if I tell someone who has diabetes, they know exactly what it means physically.”

Find Out More About D-Link

To learn more or become involved, contact dlinkfacilitators@gmail.com or the WCHOB Diabetes-Endocrine Clinic at (716) 878-7262.