Karen McNulty is a registered nurse at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (BWMC) in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

With almost 23 years in the field of nursing, McNulty has been able to help other nurses, both novice and experienced, to evolve into their roles on the busy medical-surgical/telemetry unit, now transitioning to step-down.

She serves as a nurse preceptor and charge nurse and was awarded “Preceptor of the Year” by her facility in 2021.

McNulty is an important nursing leader, and we’re pleased to profile her as we celebrate Black History Month with the Black Nursing Leaders Series 2023.

In February, we’ll highlight healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.

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Meet Karen McNulty, a registered nurse at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center

Talk about your career path and how you ascended to that role.

I started my nursing career at Johns Hopkins Hospital and did agency work a few years later. I was able to experience a lot of different things while working on a variety of nursing units throughout the years, and I loved it. Then I found BWMC, and that changed a lot for me. I saw a close-knit community hospital with many friendly people I knew and didn’t know and the opportunity for a lot of growth. Before I knew it, my nurse manager asked me to precept recent grads and nurses new to the hospital. As for charge nurse, I initially kept turning down that role when asked because I was afraid and didn’t want to leave my comfort zone. Then one day, the charge nurse for that day called out sick, and I was the only one able to run charge. After some orientation and being assigned to more charge shifts, my fear subsided, and I began to love this role as much as I love precepting.

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What inspired you to become a nurse?

Ever since I was little, I was always fascinated with the medical field. I would sit for hours reading and looking through pictures in my parents’ medical dictionaries. Then my Mom got sick and died from breast cancer when I was 15 years old, and I believe my passion for wanting to help people grew even stronger from that point on.

What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?

The most important attributes are effective communication, critical thinking, innovation, and respect. Listening to staff, understanding what’s going on, and deciding how to handle certain situations are very important for a nurse leader. You also need to be innovative. Many changes take place in healthcare, and nursing leaders must help their staff adapt effectively. This also promotes growth and empowers nurses with new ideas and skills. As for respect, everybody deserves to be treated equally, no matter what title you hold. Creating a climate of respect and appreciation is highly regarded in nursing and creates a much better and happier work environment.

What does it mean to you to be a nursing leader, and how are you making a difference?

Being a nursing leader means setting a good example for others to follow and helping others become great leaders. I’m making a difference by simply teaching what I already know, learning new things from others and acknowledging this, being accountable, and staying patient. When I get positive feedback from a team member about how I’ve helped them, it says a lot and means a lot to me.

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

There are quite a few challenges, but a huge one is nurse retention. This has been an ongoing issue across the board, and we have experienced much of this in the unit I work on.  

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As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge? 

As a nurse leader, I’m trying to overcome this challenge by showing nurses coming in and nurses already here that our hospital and medical system are exceptional and that we have to work as a team when changes are needed. Sure, there are multiple factors to consider when trying to keep nurses, and many do not have the solutions. Therefore, I share my personal experiences that I’ve had with this facility as well as the opportunities that are offered.

What nursing leader inspires you the most?

I’ve had multiple nurse leaders influence or inspire me in some way. However, the one that stands out the most to me is my nurse manager, Devika Kandhai. She’s been my manager for the majority of the time that I’ve been at BWMC, and she is an exemplar of a nurse leader. Her knowledge, leadership skills, dedication, and advocacy for our staff and patients are very high. She’s always had faith in me when I didn’t have confidence in myself to do certain things, such as taking on the charge nurse role. She’s encouraged me to go into leadership roles and take on responsibilities that promote my growth as a nurse leader, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

There will be many challenges you’ll face throughout your nursing career, both positive and negative. Set goals, lead by example, and be patient with yourself. Each nurse is unique and accomplishes different goals at different times throughout their career. Believe in yourself, and if you want to achieve something, never allow yourself or anyone else to tell you that you can’t.

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Celebrating Black Nursing Leaders: Susanah Awe
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