Celebrating 50 Years on the Front Line of Diabetes Care

Donna Younger, M.D

by Georgia Feuer, BA
Administrative Coordinator
Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Section

In 1961, Donna Younger, M.D., began seeing patients at Joslin Diabetes Center under the guidance of none other than Dr. Elliott P. Joslin himself.

Last week, Dr. Younger received an award from the Center for providing patient care here for exactly 50 years.

Here are some of her recollections about how Joslin has changed over time.

The staff and patients of the Joslin Clinic used to form a close-knit community, an “extended family,” as Dr. Younger calls it.

“We communicated more because we would see each other in the hallways,” she says. “There was a staff meeting every morning at 8 a.m., and if you were late to it, Dr. Joslin would page your name throughout the whole building.”

Joslin Diabetes Center in the 1960s © Joslin Diabetes Center All rights reserved

The patients were included in the family. In the Diabetes Treatment Unit, they received individualized coaching at family-style tables from dietitians, nurses and other patients. “Patients had tremendous psychosocial support,” Dr. Younger says. “Everybody used to be together and learn from each other.”

The approaches to diabetes management at the Joslin Clinic were considered radical at the time. The general thinking for diabetes care providers was that “all you had to do was keep the patients out of a coma,” she notes. “Complications were inevitable.” Dr. Joslin was distinctive in his viewpoint that careful management could make a difference in health outcomes.

According to Dr. Younger, this perseverance towards finding ways to improve the quality of life for patients with diabetes is why Joslin Diabetes Center has survived. “People don’t want to hear that you, the care provider, have done all you can do,” she says.

But in the 1960s, care providers faced challenges that don’t exist today. “If a person with diabetes arrived at the emergency room in a coma, we didn’t know if it was hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia,” Dr. Younger remembers. “Depending on how backed up the lab was, it could take two hours to find out if their blood glucose was high or low. We had to diagnose by asking the family members about the symptoms leading up to it. Sometimes we would just give them glucose intravenously and see if they woke up.”

Elliott P. Joslin, MD, the founder of Joslin Diabetes Center and the father of modern diabetes care © Joslin Diabetes Center All rights reserved

Dr. Joslin himself was “a gentleman of the times,” as she puts it. He always wore a suit, complete with watchcase and chain. When it came to caring for patients, “he worked hard, and he worked us hard.” He insisted the clinic be open six days a week so children could see their doctor on Saturdays and not miss school. Staff members were required to be available by phone 24/7.

Joslin’s founder had great respect for his staff and would refer to his younger physicians for the latest research findings. So great was his confidence in their abilities that when Dr. Joslin himself was hospitalized in 1961 (at the age of 92) he insisted Dr. Younger be his doctor. His explanation was that “any physician good enough for my staff is good enough to be my physician,” she explains.

Dr. Younger proved herself not only “good enough” to be physician to Dr. Joslin, but also dedicated enough to keep helping patients manage their diabetes ever since.

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8 Responses to Celebrating 50 Years on the Front Line of Diabetes Care

  1. Kathryn Gregorio Palmer says:

    By far the best endocrinologist I’ve worked with in my 25 years with diabetes. I will never forget the care she provided during my first challenging pregnancy.

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  3. Karen Blakeley says:

    Congratulations to Dr. Younger who has been an outstanding and dedicated physician to all of her patients. Dr. Younger treated my diabetes through two pregancies and until her semi-retirement. She would call me in the evenings after she got home from the clinic if she was unable to reach me during clinic hours. She is responsible for the good health I am experiencing now, a diabetic of 36 years. Thank you Dr. Younger for all you have done for me and all of your patients. You are a wonderful physician and a beautiful person.

    Love,
    Karen

  4. Some people have a higher risk of developing this disease. Factors associated with increased risk for diabetes are:

    1. Age: people over 45 have an increased risk for diabetes

    2. Body weight: overweight and obese people are more at risk

    3. Exercise: those who lead a sedentary lifestyle may develop diabetes more easily

    4. Family history: people who have a parent or brothers and sisters who are suffering from this condition should be extra cautious

    5. Pregnancy: Women who had diabetes during pregnancy or gave birth to a child weighing more than 9 pounds, are more likely to suffer from this condition.

  5. Arlene and Dennis Wolfson says:

    Our daughter, Stacey, was 2 years old when she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1974. We were fortunate enough for her to have been treated by Dr. Priscilla White and then Dr. Younger upon Dr. White’s retirement. Both physicians treated us with a level of care and personal commitment that were beyond our expectations. Personal phone calls for encouragement, personal letters (which we still cherish) and a level of care which were unsurpassed. Stacey is now 40 years old and very healthy which we attribute to their guidance. We are forever grateful.

  6. fred whitehouse says:

    Donna, You deserve kudos for your 50 years. Your picture suggests only 35 years. Best personal regards. Glad we are both upright and taking nourishment. Fred Whitehouse

  7. Malcolm J Campbell says:

    Your comments, Dr. Younger, on the technology of 50 years ago brought back memories of my own diagnosis in 1959. It was by a young family doctor in a small city some 50 miles from Sydney, Australia. He looked at the glucose tolerance test, and my weight of about 100 lbs, and said: You need to go on insulin. Go across the street, and the pharmacist will sell you some, and tell you how much to take.
    I suspect my experience back then was far from unique.
    Malcolm Campbell

  8. Tessa Gorenstein Lebinger says:

    Congratulations Dr. Younger and thank you for 49 years of medical, personal, and professional advice.

    I was privileged to become of patient of Dr. Younger in 1962 when I was first diagnosed with diabetes. I understand why Dr. Elliot Joslin chose her to personally care for him when he was ill. She exhibits all the fine qualities of a caring physician – brilliance, modesty, and compassion.

    Dr. Younger has always been there for advice and support through the good times and through some difficult times. She always knows the right thing to say at the right time. It’s an inborn talent, not sometihing you can learn from books.

    Dr. Younger has probably cared for more pregnant women with diabetes than any other physician in the world. You can tell she felt personal joy at the birth of every healthy baby.

    Although I don’t live in the Boston area any more, Dr. Younger is always available for advice, both personal and professional. She remains a storehouse of knowledge, experience and care.

    With great appreciation, I extend you my best wishes for many more productive and enjoyable years.

    Tessa

    Dr

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