Kendra Coles, DNP, RNC-OB, C-EFM, NEA-BC, is a seasoned nursing leader with over 20 years of experience in the field. For 17 years, she has been dedicated to women’s services and has a wealth of knowledge in managing inpatient and outpatient obstetric care. She also has a knack for communication and team empowerment. Coles is known for optimizing performance and outcomes for obstetric and neonatal populations, achieved through fostering collaboration and building multidisciplinary teams.meet-a-champion-of-nursing-diversity-kendra-coles

Since 2019, Coles has been Director of Women’s & Children’s Services at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC). In this role, she oversees a team of 125 FTEs across various units, including Labor & Delivery, Postpartum, Pediatrics, and Special Care Nursery. Coles is responsible for strategic planning, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives and developing nurse leaders. She is committed to achieving organizational goals while maintaining fiscal responsibility and ensuring the highest quality and safety standards for patients and staff.

She’s highly skilled in change management and program development, which has been critical in introducing obstetric and newborn care services. Her expertise and leadership have made her a trusted figure in the field.

Coles’ contributions to the nursing field have earned her a spot in the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2024. This series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and making significant changes in the nursing field.

Meet Kendra Coles, DNP, RNC-OB, C-EFM, NEA-BC, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at the UM BWMC.

Talk about your role in nursing.

As the Director of Nursing for Women’s and children’s services, my responsibilities include the operations of obstetrics, newborns, and pediatric care. In this role, I have the honor of impacting the care that women receive during pregnancy and delivery, a newborn’s early days of life, and sick children who require hospitalization. The role requires leading health initiatives such as hypertension and hemorrhage management, safe sleep, and pediatric respiratory illness management.

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As a health equity leader and advocate, I have led initiatives to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality and served on the Anne Arundel County Maternal Infant Health Task Force. I co-chair the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Council at UM BWMC and train other nursing teams in leadership, communication, and staff empowerment to optimize performance and patient outcomes.

How long have you worked in the nursing field?

I have over 26 years of nursing experience and have been a nursing leader for 20 years. My clinical experiences include caring for patients in Labor and Delivery, Mother, Baby, and Nursery. I also have expertise in the operations of inpatient and outpatient care.

Why did you become a nurse?

I became a nurse because I genuinely wanted to care for others. I was raised in a family of five kids and watched my mom always care for someone in the home or family. Nursing is a noble and humbling profession that allows interpersonal reward.

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

Resilience, compassion, innovation, and grace. Today’s nurse leaders must be resilient as they face daily changes in healthcare. Compassion is needed to care for the patients, but it is also required for the care of the staff caring for others. Nursing leaders must develop and embrace new technologies and advances in clinical practices in a rapidly evolving healthcare system. As the nursing leader supports innovation, it’s through grace that you allow forgiveness and create an environment where learning occurs for team members. Grace can also be given to patients who desire to improve their health status and may not always have the resources to make the healthiest choices. We offer our patients new opportunities to be informed and empowered in their care through grace.

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What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?

As a nursing leader, my task is helping others to help others. Nursing leaders can ensure our patients have the best outcomes by leading a team of professionals to their highest potential and encouraging their growth as caregivers. Nursing leaders drive changes that change lives. I’m most proud of starting an obstetric program at UM BWMC in 2009 and participating in its ongoing growth to improve maternal and newborn care in Anne Arundel County.

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

My nursing career started in 1997 at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the University of Maryland Medical Systems’ academic hospital in downtown Baltimore, serving in Labor & Delivery. I simultaneously worked at another hospital in the region in the Mother Baby Unit. I found myself excited about the nursing profession and joined a nursing agency where I took on a variety of nursing contracts caring for obstetric and newborn patients. My interest in leadership began as a charge nurse at UMMC and grew into a senior clinical nurse role. I was offered an opportunity for frontline leaders to obtain a Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership & Management. I completed my Master of Science in Nursing in 2009 as UM BWMC started recruiting for their new OB program leadership and staff. As a brand-new manager, I recruited a phenomenal team to open the Pascal Women’s Center. In 2018, following the retirement of the director at the time and a national recruitment effort, I was chosen to advance into the Director of Nursing role.

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What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

The most significant challenge facing nursing is staffing shortages. Like many industries, especially health care, COVID-19 changed the workforce. Nurses experienced compassion fatigue, burnout, and difficulty finding work-life balance. They began to leave the bedside, searching for a less stressful environment or more profitable opportunities. Subsequently, the nursing shortage grew, and we continue to rebuild the nursing workforce.

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

Developing and introducing new nurses into the profession is an ongoing challenge. As a nurse leader, I have embraced programs such as the Academy of Clinical Essentials, an initiative developed and spearheaded by the UMMS Chief Executive Officer, which allows nursing students to partner alongside one of our experienced nurses and have early exposure to the art of nursing. We have modified our nursing preceptor program to enable our most experienced nurse to focus on a core group of new hires. We have customized our nurse residency program for the OB, Neonatal, and Pediatric specialties. We have integrated simulations as a core training component in team building and communication skills in high-risk situations. To help our teams address fatigue and burnout, we offer flexible staffing, relaxation rooms, and RISE support resources.

What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

Rose L. Horton, MSM, RNC-OB, NEA-BC, FAAN, the Founder and CEO of #Notonmywatch Consulting Partners, inspires me. She is a Women & Infant health care executive leader at Emory Decatur Hospital, who believes nurses can change maternal morbidity and mortality. Horton called nurses to action by encouraging them to use their voices to support and advocate for others. She has been a strong influence for improving care during her tenure as the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) president and while serving on the Synova leadership Board of Directors. I’m really inspired by her dedication to raising awareness about issues compounding black maternal health and how she successfully advocates for change.

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

No matter how hard your shift may seem, never forget why you became a nurse. Take every opportunity to serve and care for someone else because you never know the difference you make.

Renee Hewitt
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