Kimberley Ennis, MS '07, BS ‘05: From Young Immigrant to Nurse Leader and Advocator

Headshot of UB alumna Kimberley Ennis.

Kimberley Ennis, MS '07, BS ‘05

As an early adolescent, Kimberley Ennis, DNP, ANP-BC, along with her younger sister, left her home in Jamaica and moved to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. 

“The university and the School of Nursing offered countless opportunities for my leadership growth and development."
Kimberley Ennis, MS '07, BS ‘05

“Like most immigrant parents, my mother migrated to the U.S. from Jamaica in search of a better future and opportunity for herself and her children,” she says. “She was motivated by a dream for a greener pasture and the pursuit of happiness.”

Flash forward to 2020, and Ennis was awarded both the Business Council of Westchester 40 under 40 Rising Star and the National Black Nurses Association Administrator of the Year. She was also promoted to the senior director of nursing at Mount Sinai Queens in New York.

Building a foundation on the immigrant experience

“Although I was young, I recall feeling ambivalent about my transition,” Ennis says. “I felt a loss of my community that I had left behind, a sense of curiosity and uncertainty in regards to my new norms, culture, school, and friends, and a bit of excitement about finding out what my new world had to offer.”

Because Ennis’s family settled in a community of other immigrants with similar backgrounds and experiences, she didn’t feel that her transition was difficult. However, it did not come without its challenges.

“The most challenging part for me at that age was adjusting to a new school system and guiding myself through it,” Ennis says. “Particularly, dealing with teasing from peers because I didn’t wear name-branded clothing like the other kids. In Jamaica, I attended school systems where everyone wore uniforms. Asking my mother to purchase different clothing was not an option. Although my mother never openly discussed her financial situation, I was astute to the financial struggles from the conversations I overheard, the occasional eviction notices that no one talked about and knowing that we could only afford to shop at certain department stores.”

Although she never felt abnormal surrounded by loved ones with similar experiences, Ennis knew that she wanted a different norm for herself. After hearing of the experiences of her immigrant family and learning of the statistics of women who grew up in communities like hers, she made important vows to herself.

"I vowed to myself to work as hard as possible, not be anyone’s statistic, and take advantage of opportunities as they come, because sadly opportunities were limited,” she says.

Growing as a leader at UB’s School of Nursing

Ennis has known she wanted to work in health care since she was in high school. Although her high school was known for its poor academic record and incidences of violence, it was equipped with multiple support programs. 

“These programs allowed me to explore internships, take advantage of career-track programs and engage with people from different career backgrounds,” she says. “Through these experiences, I became confident in my decision to pursue a career in health care. I chose nursing because it had all of the qualities that I was seeking in my future career path: a chance to help others and be impactful, a robust path with growth and opportunity and a career that would last a lifetime.”

At UB, Ennis went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2005 and a master’s degree in adult health nursing in 2007.

“I choose UB's School of Nursing because it had the qualities I was seeking in a higher academic institution,” she explains. “It was very diverse with a variety of student clubs and extracurricular activities, it had a strong academic profile dedicated to academic excellence, the nursing program had a high NCLEX success rate and there was a beautiful open campus.”

Ennis believes it was her experience at UB that helped mold her into the leader she is today. 

“The university and the School of Nursing offered countless opportunities for my leadership growth and development,” she says. “While I was a student, I was president of UB SON Minority Nursing Student Association, an active member of the Nursing Student Organization, treasurer of the Asian American Student Association and a resident advisor. I was actively involved in planning events, community service activities and mentoring opportunities for incoming students, all of which helped cultivate my leadership and interpersonally skills.”

She later went on to complete her doctorate in nursing practice from Yale University School of Nursing in 2016.

Shattering glass ceilings at Mount Sinai Queens

Ennis’s promotion, which went into effect at the start of 2021, advanced her to senior director of nursing at Mount Sinai Queens. In that role, she oversees all medical surgical nursing operations and nurse management teams, works with leadership to achieve superior patient experiences and outcomes and maintains the hospital’s historical positive nursing satisfaction and fiscal responsibility. She also serves as Magnet liaison, where she refines governance with Magnet champions and grows and maintains a steady team of advanced practice nurses.

Ennis’s promotion came after a longstanding career with Mount Sinai Hospital. She joined the system in 2008 as a nurse practitioner on the cardiac NP Attending Directed Service, during which time she was involved in various hospital committees and initiatives such as the Reduce Excess Days Committee, CAUTI Committee, Meds-to-Beds initiative, the NP annual symposium and NP Professional Practice Committee.

In 2016, she became manager of the Cardiac Care Unit, where she led the successful opening and was responsible for the daily operations of a new 20 bed state-of-the-art Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and Cardiac Step-Down Unit. Under her leadership, the ICU received the prestigious national Gold Beacon Award for Excellence from American Nurses Credentialing Center. She also received the highest number of new CCRN certifications, the highest and most improved unit in the Hand Hygiene Award, and recognition for patient experience highest and most improved in nurse communication and nurse checks-on-you. 

Before her most recent promotion, Ennis served as the associate director of nursing at Mount Sinai Heart, where she was responsible for the clinical operations and strategic oversight of the various inpatient and outpatient areas.

Continuously evolving as a nurse leader

Even in her demanding roles, Ennis continues to prioritize her education and professional development. She is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the American Heart Association Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing Clinical Symposium planning committee, the American Heart Association Lifelong Learning Activity review group, the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

“As a well-integrated naturalized American citizen, I’ve realized that my experience as an immigrant child has helped shape my life and has guided me to my dreams and aspirations,” she explains. “The experience allowed me to gain an appreciation for the available opportunities. I learned strength, resilience, grit and the importance of hard work. This experience has shaped me into the nurse, woman, and leader I am today.”

Her work ethic has not gone unnoticed. In 2020, she was named the Business Council of Westchester 40 under 40 Rising Star and the National Black Nurses Association Administrator of the Year.

“It was beyond my pleasure and honor to have been awarded the Business Council of Westchester 40 under 40 Rising Star Award and the National Black Nurses Association Administrator of the Year Award,” she says. “It felt wonderful to be recognized, but it also comes with a greater sense of responsibility and accountability. The most important aspect of the award is knowing that women of color can see me and feel that their hard work and dedication can also one day be recognized on a local or national platform.”

Influencing the next generation of nurses of color

Ennis’s experiences have led her to become a very active member of her community. She's a member of the Greater New York City Black Nurses Association; a member of the Harlem Healthy Hearts series, a community-based program serving the East Harlem community by addressing lifestyle interventions through motivation, education and screening to promote optimal cardiovascular health management; and frequent NYC school and youth program advocate for career advice and mentorships.

“I’m incredibly passionate about mentorship and guidance for nurses and students,” she explains, “especially those of color in the nursing profession since they are highly underserved. That’s why I did my Yale DNP capstone project on creating a mentorship program. Now, I dedicate time weekly to mentorship and guidance.”

Ennis believes strongly that more dedication to mentoring nurses and nursing students of color will lead to greater diversity in areas that are currently lacking (such as intensive care units, education and leadership) and, ultimately, improve the care for diverse patient populations.

“I want to be a role model for aspiring nursing professionals and influence them tremendously,” she says. “I hope to impact them positively towards greater ambition and build a legacy beyond their wildest dreams. At the end of my profession, I would like to be remembered for being a great mentor, creating a great legacy, and make a lasting positive change that will impact the nursing profession, organization and communities.”

Story by Grace Gerass

Published February 24, 2021