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Jennifer McVean, MD, draws from personal experience to treat type 1 diabetes

Pediatric Endocrinologist Jennifer McVean, MD, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. Now, she uses her personal experience to help her pediatric patients lead healthy lives.
Pediatric Endocrinologist Jennifer McVean, MD, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. Now, she draws from her personal experience when caring for young diabetes patients in Maple Grove and Woodbury.

Pediatric Endocrinologist Jennifer McVean, MD, doesn’t just treat Type 1 diabetes—she lives it, too.

McVean was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. Now, she draws from her personal experience when caring for pediatric diabetes patients at the Pediatric Specialty Clinic – Woodbury and University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics.

“After I learned I had type 1 diabetes, I became very interested in medicine and caring for others,” McVean said. “I work every day to make sure kids growing up with this disease can live healthy, normal lives.”

We talked with McVean about her personal experience, her passion for diabetes care and the role research plays in preventing type 1 diabetes.

Tell us about your clinical background? How did you first become interested in practicing medicine, and when did you know that you wanted to focus in endocrinology and diabetes care?

After I was diagnosed as a child, I began volunteering weekly at a children’s hospital. I did that for nearly a decade until I started medical school at the University of Minnesota, where I became certain that I wanted to care for children—especially those with diabetes. Later, while completing my residency at the University of Colorado, I spent valuable time learning as a physician and a patient at the Barbara Davis Center, one of the largest freestanding centers in the world for people with type 1 diabetes. To this day, I continue use the Barbara Davis Center as a model to ensure that I’m providing state-of-the-art care for every child with type 1 diabetes.

Can you share your own type 1 diabetes story? How does your personal experience with diabetes impact your professional care for children with the chronic disease?

In 1988, I was 11 years old and I was drinking a lot, urinating frequently and losing weight. After several months, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The diagnosis was devastating. We didn’t have the amazing tools we have today—such as rapid-acting insulins, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. I couldn’t always go on field trips or to sleepovers because of the disease. Teenage years are often challenging for young people and type 1 diabetes can make those years even more difficult. I use my personal experience to try to lessen the burden of type 1 diabetes on my patients and their families. 

What sets the University of Minnesota Health type 1 diabetes program apart?

Our team. With every visit, phone call or email, you speak with the same members of your child's team. If you’re receiving care in Woodbury, you speak with me or our diabetes educator, Anne Kogler, RN, CDE. As fate would have it, both Anne and I have had type 1 diabetes since childhood. We get it. Not only do we have the medical background, training and experience to take care of children with Type 1 diabetes, but we live it, too—every day. We understand the ups and downs that come with this disease.

Learn more about our pediatric diabetes care.

What is your goal when treating each patient? When you’re treating a chronic disease like diabetes, how do you measure success?

My goal is to help my patients lead the lives they led before they were diagnosed. We measure their progress against their personal goals in addition to larger goals set by the American Diabetes Association for all people living with diabetes. Caring for people with type 1 diabetes is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Our team stands by our patients every step of the way.

How do you employ new research to help treat type 1 diabetes patients?

We’re using research to help delay and ultimately prevent type 1 diabetes among our patients’ family members. Type 1 diabetes can be predicted through a simple blood draw, and relatives of people with the disease are 15 times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than the general population. The University of Minnesota is a coordinating center for Trialnet, a National Institutes of Health-funded study that aims to prevent type 1 diabetes. When we find family members who are likely to develop type 1 diabetes, we offer them the option of enrolling into a prevention trial. In addition, we also run trials aiming to improve care for those people already living with type 1 diabetes.