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2021 APNA Award for Distinguished Service

Carol Essenmacher, DNP, NCTTP

A nationally recognized expert in evidence-based addiction treatment and Motivational Interviewing, Carol Essenmacher has consistently worked in parallel to dedicate her distinguished career to championing and advancing high-quality Psychiatric-Mental Health (PMH) nursing.

Carol is highly sought after for her incredible depth of knowledge, advocacy skills and educational expertise, but she misses no opportunity to step forward to work with public advocacy groups and teach those both inside and outside the field of PMH nursing.

After her many years of service with the Battle Creek, Michigan Veterans Administration Medical Center – where she received the 2004 Nurse of the Year Award – Carol switched gears, working as faculty with Indiana University to enhance the addiction content of the curriculum in the School of Nursing.

She shares, “My current role as an educator is an opportunity to shape hearts and minds. I truly love teaching – more than I thought I would. I should not have been surprised, however, because a big part of my past practice was teaching patients and colleagues. It’s an opportunity to really listen and tune in with students, much the same as I listened and tuned in with my patients.”

Carol is a past member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) and current enthusiast of Motivational Interviewing (MI). Carol leads efforts to teach MI patient-centered engagement skills to PMH nurses and practitioners via regional and national presentations and products. Her efforts include the highly-rated APNA e-learning module on Motivational Interviewing.

“Motivational Interviewing was a serendipitous discovery for me,” said Carol. “I found learning MI helped me understand and enhance the motivations of my patients. Using MI allowed me to feel that I was doing everything that I could for patients. It also helped me let go of my nursing role at the end of the day and focus on my family, improving my work/life balance. Listening skills central to MI are critical for long term nursing careers – for all nurses, not just psych nurses.”

Carol’s widely respected expertise in addiction treatment led her to contribute to professional dialogue with a variety of interdisciplinary tobacco use treatment strategies with the Association for Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence (ATTUD); to peer review the CDC’s Million Hearts Tobacco Cessation Change Package; and serve as a multidisciplinary team member who coauthored the 2015 VA/DoD National Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Substance Use Disorders. Carol was also recruited to serve as co-chair for the Systems Change Committee of the National Partnership on Behavioral Health and Tobacco Use.

Carol’s important work in tobacco treatment has been “an incredible journey, and an attempt to answer the question that befuddles me still – why is tobacco treatment not more of a priority amongst nurses when we know that this is a large source of morbidity and mortality for patients living with mental health issues?” As a result, Carol is consistently working to better understand how she can make learning about treating tobacco use and dependency more practical and useful to nurses and clinicians.

Her deep expertise naturally pulled Carol into publishing her work and reviewing the related work of her peers. Carol has had 15 peer reviewed publications in recognized journals, with six as the principal author and has consistently been engaged to peer review work for publication in the Journal of Addictions Nursing, the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing and the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nursing Association.

Colleagues praise Carol’s tireless work to champion PMH nursing and her efforts to advance the aims and objectives of the APNA. This is most easily seen in her consistent and outstanding service to a variety of key APNA efforts. These include serving as the inaugural co-chair of the Addictions Council; working to develop the APNA’s three original webinars entitled “Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorders,” serving as chair of the Addiction Council’s Tobacco Branch; and serving on APNA’s Tobacco and Nicotine Dependency Treatment Nursing Competencies Task Force. Carol has also enriched APNA’s Motivational Interviewing Task Force, helping to develop a wide variety of educational materials for member use, while actively recruiting and mentoring new APNA members.

Carol passionately fuses her incredible knowledge base and leadership skills to better the APNA membership – consistently working to identify knowledge deficits in the areas of substance use and addictions, synthesizing the latest scientific evidence and delivering new information to inform APNA members and fill these gaps. Her contributions to APNA over so many years are too numerous to count.

“This award is an honor of a lifetime, and I am very grateful to receive it,” Carol says. “We walk this planet with a finite amount of energy, and I have been lucky enough to spend a significant amount of my effort dedicated to psychiatric nursing care. I have benefitted from the opportunities made open to me to walk among the giants in psych mental health nursing who have influenced my thinking and practice. I have had the fortune to have the support of my family and friends, who made it possible for me to contribute that energy. It’s vitally important for all nurses to find something that they’re passionate about – and to understand that it’s okay to change course and follow your passions as your career evolves.”