We caught up with Dr Stephen Lawrence, principal teaching fellow in diabetes at Warwick Medical School, to find out how he became interested in diabetes and why he believes diabetes education is so important.
What’s your background in diabetes? How did you come to be at Warwick?
My interest in diabetes started during my undergraduate degree. I studied medicine at Leeds University and took an intercalated year, during which I studied chemical pathology and endocrinology. I loved it! After medical school I went into GP training, but my interest in diabetes remained. There were several other factors that encouraged me to focus on this area, including the fact that my grandmother passed away from type 2 diabetes complications.
I worked for a while as a consultant GP with a speciality in diabetes. Patients presenting at their doctor’s surgery with diabetes were passed on to me and my partner at our specialist clinic and we provided a triage system to determine who needed to be referred to a consultant.
Following that I became Diabetes Lead for the Royal College of General Practitioners and Primary Care Medical Lead for Diabetes UK. These were both fantastic experiences – my work with Diabetes UK gave me the opportunity to become involved in diabetes policy, while at the RCGP I was involved in organising conferences, where we brought together GPs from across the country to share best practice. I then joined Warwick, taking over from Professor Roger Gadsby as the Lead for the Certificate in Diabetes Care.
What is your role like now?
I teach at Warwick for two days per week. As well as leading the Certificate in Diabetes Care I run a couple of modules on other courses including Applied Pharmacology and Therapeutics in Diabetes Care. On the other days of the week I work in my own GP practice in Kent. Of course, staying on top of recent developments in diabetes research is crucial for my role, so I’m always keeping an eye on the latest studies and research findings. I’m very fortunate to be able to travel to diabetes conferences around the world, both to speak myself and to learn from others, to make sure my teaching is as up to date as possible.
Tell us a bit about the Certificate in Diabetes Care – what makes it special?
The Certificate in Diabetes Care was launched about 17 years ago and since then around 14,000 professionals have taken the course. It’s suitable for all healthcare professionals with an interest in diabetes care, such as GPs, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dietitians, optometrists and chiropodists. Often, the longer we’ve been working the more distanced we become from the principles that underpin what we’re doing. So keeping up to date with the latest knowledge around diabetes is really important. That’s what we aim to do in the course.
Students spend five days with us at WMS over five months, looking at all aspects of diabetes care and completing a formative project. The course is also available to study online. Diabetes is a really fast moving area, particularly in terms of therapeutics, so even though our students come to us with very different levels of knowledge in the area, a lot of the content is most probably going to be new for everyone.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I really love watching the interaction between our students. They come from such diverse backgrounds, which results in fascinating – sometimes challenging – discussions about the topics we’re looking at. Each group I teach is very different and the dynamics change as we progress through the course, which is quite interesting to see. I love being part of the students’ journeys. Some of our students start with little knowledge in the area but then decide that it’s something they want to pursue further as a result of what they’ve learnt on the course – I find that very rewarding.
Why is diabetes education so important?
Diabetes has a huge impact on the NHS and education is essential to make sure we’re treating patients and identifying patients as effectively as possible. 3.2 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes, meaning that 6.2% of the country’s population is affected. It’s thought that about 550,000 people in the UK are living with diabetes but haven’t been diagnosed. Diabetes care costs 9.5billion per year - that’s £1m per hour - and 80% of that money goes on treating complications from diabetes.
What do you think needs to be done to reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the UK?
I think it’s crucial that we reach people who are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes before they actually become affected by it. It’s thought that encouraging these at-risk individuals to lose just 7% of their weight could be enough to prevent diabetes in 58% of cases. The Diabetes Prevention Study launched by the NHS last year is going to be incredibly important I think – we need to promote it and support it as much as we can.