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2022 APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – RN

Donna Ecklesdafer, MSN, RN

While infusing her workplace with laughter, camaraderie, and close-knit team bonding, Donna Ecklesdafer also shines a light on a vital, but widely misunderstood form of psychiatric treatment. Both endeavors support the delivery of high-quality care for her patients.

Ecklesdafer is a proponent of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an effective treatment for treatment resistant major depression, bipolar mania and depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective and catatonia, which can produce substantial improvement in approximately 80% of patients.

A great deal of fear and stigma still surrounds ECT due to early forms of the treatment and distorted depictions of the practice in movies. In today’s modern treatment, patients are given a brief anesthetic and muscle relaxant. Once they are asleep, a brief electrical stimulus (bidirectional square pulse wave) is used to induce a brief grand mal seizure, lasting only 30-60 seconds. The total procedure lasts about 10 minutes. After a few treatments (4-6), symptoms begin to improve. Sleep quality, mood, energy, and appetite also can improve. These positive outcomes lead to a renewed sense of hope in those responding to treatment.

Ecklesdafer explains, “ECT is a non-invasive treatment that can be absolutely life-saving. Everyone should see ECT and understand it so we can decrease stigma and educate both providers and patients alike. It’s incredibly rewarding to have your patients and their families consistently tell you about their improvement.”

Serving as Neuromodulation Clinic Manager at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she works with patients receiving ECT and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatments. These treatments use magnetic pulses to make chemical changes in the brain, helping those struggling with major depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Widely known by patients and staff alike for her kind, fun spirit, Ecklesdafer creates a positive environment and excellent patient care experiences.

In addition to her clinical work, she serves as chair of Pine Rest’s Nursing Education Council and is also a member of the RN Excellence and Nursing Leadership Councils. She mentors, supports and encourages her team members to step forward and lead, to participate in RN Peer Review, RN Clinical Ladder, Nursing Leadership, and Nursing Education Council at Pine Rest.

PMH nurses understand that patient care comes first, but Ecklesdafer has a keen appreciation of how the quality of the culture within the workplace greatly impacts the level care patients receive. She nurtures a strong solidarity within the team, which has both improved staff retention and overall patient success. She observes,

“We ensure we all laugh, grow, and bond. We work together to improve patient care and documentation, we support each other. We are a true team. Quality improvement scores have soared – 95% or higher. This is due to working together and caring about one another. That’s the culture we have created.”

Ecklesdafer also works through a variety of additional channels to advance ECT and TMS care nationally. She collaborates with both APNA and the International Society for ECT and Neurostimulation (ISEN), to help develop national resources for ECT care and has assisted in spearheading the development and delivery of a variety of key ECT resources. She also co-chairs the APNA Neuromodulation Task Force, which recently updated APNA’s position paper on ECT and is currently working to develop a national resource on neuromodulation.

Donna and her team at Pine Rest partner with four other sites to participate in research looking at the use of ECT for agitation and aggressive behavior associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and some Dementias, and the impact of nurse interaction on TMS patient outcomes. Ecklesdafer regularly presents at conferences regarding both ECT and TMS treatment.

Her leadership continues in the classroom where she strives to inspire PMH nursing students at four different nursing schools – Grand Rapids Community College, Calvin University, Ferris State University, and Grand Valley State University.

“Seeing students go into PMH nursing is a great passion of mine,” she says. “There is a terrible need for nursing school instructors, so I urge APNA members to seek teaching opportunities to positively impact today’s nursing students, inspire and mentor them in choosing PMH nursing careers, and help those going into other fields of nursing to have a better understanding of mental healthcare.”