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Interview with Stephen Lawrence

We caught up with Dr Stephen Lawrence, associate clinical professor 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 teach 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. After that I joined Warwick.

What is your role like now?

As well as teaching on the Diploma in Improving Diabetes Care I run a couple of modules on other courses including Applied Pharmacology and Therapeutics in Diabetes Care. 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.

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 is going to be incredibly important I think – we need to promote it and support it as much as we can.