Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the address of the American Diabetes Association President, Health Care and Education, given in June 2003 at the 63rd Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions in New Orleans, La.

I have been asked many times over the past 12 months what I am going to do when my year in this role has ended. And because I’ve been far too busy to think much past the next 24 hours, my standard answer has been, “I’m going to get a life.”

So, as this amazing year has drawn to a close, I’ve spent some time anticipating “getting a life” and what it will be. And I’ve realized that it will in fact be very different than I could have imagined a year ago. Because you have given me many gifts this year, and those gifts have changed my life.

Like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” one gift I have been given through my ADA experience this past year is heart. In my years as an educator, I have learned that diabetes education happens in the heart—not the head. This year, I have learned that the same is true of our work within the ADA.

Outgoing ADA President Francine R. Kaufman, MD, and I had the opportunity to travel to India this year to be part of a conference held in Chenai. As we greeted our American colleagues there, we all compared notes about things we had experienced since our arrival that had felt different from home, and we discussed how long our flights had been—10, 12, 16 hours. The world seemed very big. But as we talked to our Indian colleagues and others from around the world, I was struck by the fact that our similarities far outweighed our differences. We had the same goal: to do the very best we could for the people with diabetes who trust us with their future health. Our hearts were in the same place. The world did not seem quite so big anymore.

The efforts of the volunteers I have met also come from the heart. As health professionals, we have a strong career interest in diabetes. But we also care deeply. We bring our heart and our passion into our work and into our volunteer lives as we offer knowledge, caring, and compassion. The many health care professionals who are also ADA volunteers have inspired and supported me this year, just as they inspire and support people with diabetes everyday.

Our theme for this year’s ADA Community Assembly was “Facing Diabetes: Everyone Is in the Picture.” We have worked hard this year to recapture some of our heart and to make sure that there is room for all of us within the ADA. We want to be sure that we are making a difference at every level, that we are reaching out to people with diabetes, that we are clearly visible and active at the community level, and that all diabetes health professionals feel welcome and at home in the ADA.

Another important lesson I have learned as an educator is the importance of listening. In fact, I have found that the more I talk, the less people learn. One of the gifts I have received this year was the chance to listen to many stories. I have heard and learned from people with diabetes, from health professionals, from scientists and from policy makers. Reflecting on those stories has helped me understand more about the complexity of this organization. While most of us think of the ADA in terms of our special interests, I have heard that the strength of the ADA comes from many different areas. It is not in the pieces of our puzzle, but in the picture we create when we put the pieces together to make a coherent whole that makes us who we are: a unique organization that does it all for diabetes and those it affects.

As educators, we offer the ADA expertise to help deliver our messages about prevention and care more effectively. Our skills as clinicians help us develop guidelines that become worldwide standards of care. As scientists, we look for better ways to educate and care for people with diabetes. Our research helps us to get support from policy makers to ensure that people with diabetes have access to care and the ability to do what they need to do. And our programs not only educate people with diabetes, but also assist us in raising funds by enhancing our image and visibility.

This more holistic view of the ADA both strengthens the organization and helps us to figure out where we fit best as health professionals.

I have always had a lot of heroes, and mostly heroines, within the ADA. These people have blazed the trail for those of us who are now trying to follow in their very big footsteps. Among the gifts I have been given in my travels this year were some new heroes and heroines, including:

  • Educators who work hard to keep their programs open to make sure that people with diabetes have the information and ongoing support they need to care for themselves

  • Health professionals in inner cities and rural communities who have very limited resources but who give so much and work so hard to make a difference

  • Policy makers who have the ability and, hopefully, a commitment to do the right thing for people with diabetes

  • Providers who care not only for diabetes, but also for each person with diabetes

  • Scientists who work each day to find a cure, more effective therapies, and better ways to detect and prevent the complications of diabetes

  • And, most importantly, people with diabetes, for whom every day is a challenge, but who also take the time to volunteer for the ADA so that they can make life better not only for themselves but also for others.

As an educator, I have also learned that the most important thing I have to give to people with diabetes is not what I know but who I am, because at the end of the day that is what really matters. Likewise, the most important gifts I have received this year are personal relationships.

The ADA is truly a family. We celebrate together, we grieve together, and, although occasionally we disagree, we remain committed to a common mission and vision. One of the reasons for our success as an organizational family is that the ADA has the world’s greatest staff.

We have been blessed to have a leader with great vision, who has understood the importance of the role of health professionals and what we had to offer the organization. Outgoing Chief Executive Officer John H. Graham IV made it possible for the position of President, Health Care and Education not only to be created, but also to thrive and grow. Thank you, John, we will miss you.

I have also had an incredibly supportive team including not only Fran Kaufman, but also outgoing Chair of the Board Michael A. Weiss and Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth T. Singleton. They join me in welcoming my friends and colleagues Carolé R. Mensing, RN, MS, CDE, as incoming President, Health Care and Education, and Catherine J. Tibbetts, RN, MPH, CDE, as incoming President-Elect. The responsibilities of this role are in good hands for the future.

Early in the year, I heard the quote, “Enjoy this moment, this moment is your life.” Each moment of this year has felt like a special gift. I am thankful for each moment, for this incredible opportunity, and, most of all, for all that so many have given and continue to give to the American Diabetes Association.

Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, is Director for Administration at the Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.