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She lost two relatives of her own to the pandemic and worked on the frontlines when Covid cut short the lives of so many New Yorkers that hospitals needed morgue trucks to house the dead. So, Sandra Lindsay, DHSc, MS, MBA, RN, CCRN-K, NE-BC, the director of patient care services in critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, knew what was at stake when she was asked to bare her arm for the first official Covid jab in the US on December 14, 2020.

This Nurse of Many Weeks has played her role as nursing icon with a very un-celebrity-like grace and lack of pretension. On top of her usual job duties, she has spent most of the year urging people to trust the evidence that the Covid vaccines work, appearing at Zoom town halls and other events in a tireless campaign to combat junk science and medical mistrust.

“It’s the everyday, ordinary people seeing me on the street or in different locations and recognizing me, even with my mask on … and coming up to me and saying, ‘Thank you….'”

—Sandra Lindsay, DHSc, MS, MBA, RN, CCRN-K, NE-BC

Just last month, nurse Lindsay readily agreed to the request of 9-year-old Desiree Mohammadi, daughter of a Queens pediatrician, and held her small hand as a pediatric nurse administered a Covid jab. Afterward, Desiree sent her idol a grateful thank-you letter. The photos and video of the nurse who was the first person in the US to be vaccinated for Covid-19 will be in textbooks soon, but she is already inspiring children to seek a better understanding of both science and nursing.

“I encourage people to speak to experts who can answer their questions, to access trusted science. I let them know that it’s OK to ask questions.”

The nursing profession may be too diverse for any one nurse to be seen as its “face,” but Dr. Sandra Lindsay is nonetheless a superb representative. The 53-year-old critical care nurse displays the qualities that inspire our trust in nurses. She communicates clearly and honestly, in a no-nonsense manner; her practice follows science and evidence, not opinions. With those who prefer to heed opinions, her approach is nonjudgemental*, and seeks to persuade without condescension.

“It’s the only job I know of where they pay you to learn.”

—Joan Blondell, as “Maloney” in Night Nurse (1932)

As for the “nursing public,” any nurse can take pride in Lindsay’s ongoing pursuit of education. If you’re a nurse, your last name doesn’t have to be followed by an ever-expanding alphabet of degrees and credentials, but those proliferating letters do speak to the long-overdue increase in respect for nurses. (Of course, if the general public was aware of the mathematical calculations an RN performs every day or knew how quickly the “average” nurse masters complex new procedures, technology, and treatments, they might be intimidated). Lindsay is also a fine example of nurse leadership. She cites evidence as the basis for her words and actions and bears her responsibilities with a quiet, natural authority.

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And for aspiring nurses, whether immigrant or native-born, Lindsay is an exemplar of the classic American dream: if you are smart, determined, self-disciplined, and willing to work very hard, you don’t need wealth or family clout to make a difference in the world.

But perhaps the most significant reason that Dr. Lindsay is our Nurse of the Year is this: as Elvis did with the polio vaccine, she set an example that is saving lives. When NPR spoke with her last week, she shared the following anecdote:

Lindsay was at the Jamaican Embassy one day (she was born there and immigrated to the US when she was 18) when a woman came over and began to thank her profusely. She told Lindsay that she and her family had not intended to be vaccinated—until she saw Lindsay getting that first jab on TV. After seeing the nurse’s confident mien, she said, “We all went and made an appointment. So I want to thank you so much for inspiring us.”

For that alone, may Dr. Lindsay have the best possible 2022, and many more great years after that.

Koren Thomas
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