Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Kendra Coles

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Kendra Coles

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Celebrating Black Nursing Leaders: Karen McNulty

Celebrating Black Nursing Leaders: Karen McNulty

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.


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.

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.  

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.