My Specialty

Adult Inpatient Services, Martha Lopez, Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center

Leading and empowering nurses in a time of rapid change

Martha Lopez wearing a white coat is smiling while sitting with arms crossed

Martha Lopez, RN, MSN, PHN, CNML
Director of Adult Inpatient Service
Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center

Please describe the trajectory of your nursing career.

My first job was in 1991, as a medical/ surgical oncology nurse, and I joined Kaiser Permanente Fontana in 1998. In 2000, I became assistant clinical director for the med/surg-telemetry/critical care/stepdown unit.

In 2010, I transferred to Kaiser Permanente Ontario Medical Center to assist with the opening of the new hospital as clinical director for med/surg-telemetry, handling staffing, payroll, office management, WOCN, PICC and discharge callback.

During that same period, I was earning my MSN with a concentration in nursing informatics, graduating in 2013. (I earned my BSN in 2003.) A year later, I became a certified nurse manager and leader (CNML) through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership. I also successfully completed several Kaiser Permanente management and leadership programs.

What are your responsibilities in your current role?

As director, I oversee the daily operations of all adult inpatient units. I’m responsible for ensuring that our patient care services are in compliance with the array of state and federal regulations that apply to hospitals, and for promoting patient- and family-centered care across all our clinical practices, services and operations.

Essentially, I provide processes and methods to evaluate and improve patient care; set departmental policies; develop and implement service area initiatives; and share best practices between our various teams.

I’m also responsible for managing our budget and financial performance, which includes identifying ways to reduce costs while improving quality and patient safety.

Part of my job is directing and delegating to managers, but I also hire, terminate and discipline staff, and I resolve issues related to labor relations, employee and department safety. Finally, I’m part of the survey readiness process required to maintain our state licensing and Joint Commission accreditation.

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You are responsible for a comprehensive array of acute care services. How many direct reports do you have?

I have nine direct reports, including six clinical managers, two assistant department managers/educators and an administrative specialist.

Which clinical and non-clinical leaders do you interact with in the course of your day?

I always begin the day by participating in our daily operations briefing. This includes clinical and nonclinical leaders giving updates on their departments and informing the group of any barriers that could cause care delays. This kind of collaboration really facilitates problem-solving.

In my position, it’s very important to develop trusting relationships with all department leaders, both clinical and nonclinical, and maintain open communication.

Throughout your career, have you had role models you wanted to emulate? What qualities made them stand out?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with multiple nurse leaders who have been great role models in my leadership journey. Each has increased my knowledge and enhanced my leadership skills.

Some qualities I strive to emulate are being genuine and transparent; leading from the heart; being a passionate advocate for our patients, families and staff; and seeing others in a nonjudgmental way. It’s also important to be honest, respect diversity, and be a strong decision-maker.

By nurturing these qualities in myself, I lead by example and guide my team through any challenges we face.

In your experience, how has nurse leadership evolved in the 21st century?

Nurse leadership is evolving through inclusivity. With increasing diversity in the workplace, different generations of nurses are learning, adapting and developing entirely new communication styles together.

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This is a time of rapid changes in the workforce. Guiding nurses through those changes while keeping the patient and family at the center of care demands transformational leadership that allows people to make independent decisions while giving them the support they need to be successful.

How can our profession best nurture the next generation of nurse leaders?

We need succession planning, mentoring, and to help young nurses develop resiliency and a passion for the profession.

Emerging nurse leaders need to know how to prioritize, manage their time, make decisions, partner with other members of the healthcare team, and break down the silos that keep us separated from one another.

We also need to focus on diversity and inclusion, and teach our new leaders how to look at things from different points of view.

Teaching these skills is how we can promote successful nurse leadership and uplift the nursing profession in the 21st century.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, what were your first thoughts about how things were about to change?

I thought about how we were going to accommodate surge capacity while also supporting our staff. Finding capacity and resources was a major priority.

What got us through was interdisciplinary partnership, shared decision-making, accountability, and a focus on safe staffing. We also engaged our employee assistance program to make sure that staff had appropriate PPE and education as the crisis unfolded.

What positive lessons do you hope the nursing profession will learn from the pandemic?

One lesson I really hope nurses recognize and appreciate is the importance of virtually connecting patients and families when there’s no way for the family to be physically present.

Above all, we must never lose sight of the importance of caring for patients and families, even when it takes great courage to move forward.

How would you sum up what you love about your work?

I love my job, and have enjoyed many accomplishments in my 11 years in this role. My heart has always been, and remains, in the adult inpatient setting, where I can still have close personal contact with patients, families and staff.

I feel I can continue to make a difference in others’ lives when they are in need.

KEITH CARLSON, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC, has worked as a nurse since 1996 and has hosted the popular nursing blog Digital Doorway since 2005. He offers expert professional coaching for nurses and nursing students at

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