As St. Joseph’s alumna Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse manager at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, strode into the conference room of Long Island Jewish Medical Center last month, she had no idea she was about to become the first person in the United States to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Let me tell you, when I sat down, saw Gov. Cuomo on the screen, and he told me that I was going to be the first person to receive the vaccine in the country, I was never in such a rush to get a shot!” said Lindsay, who in 1999 earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from SJC Brooklyn.
In her role as a nurse manager, Lindsay and her colleagues saw firsthand the devastation wrought by COVID-19 and how imperative a vaccine was to stem the tide against the virus.
“We were constantly surrounded by death, pain and suffering on every side,” she said. “It wasn’t just the sorrow of the families – it was also among my colleagues who were fearful of spreading the virus. It was mentally exhausting and burdensome, yet it also made us incredibly proud to be in healthcare. We stepped up.”
When discussions about the vaccine began, Lindsay didn’t hesitate to volunteer to be among the first to receive it.
“We desperately needed something to change the game. I was a vocal booster of the vaccine and wanted to be among the first to do whatever needed to be done to stop the virus,” she said. “As the first to receive it, I knew that I was helping to take the first step in putting an end to this prolonged darkness and suffering. I’m so grateful and lucky to have had this opportunity to make a difference.”
Originally from Jamaica, Lindsay was 18 when she emigrated to the United States in 1986. She came to pursue her dream of becoming a healer.
“From as far back as I can remember. I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “When I was living with my grandmother during my childhood, I would serve as her personal nurse, parsing out her medication and checking her blood glucose levels. In Jamaica, being a nurse was like being the matron of the hospital. Culturally, it’s a very prestigious profession and one that I am very grateful to be part of.”
Lindsay moved to the Bronx when she arrived in the United States, taking a position as a nurse’s assistant at New York Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights. From there, she relentlessly pursued her dream of becoming a nurse, earning her RN from CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College before moving on to SJC Brooklyn.
“My experience at SJC was very good – while I learned the clinical skills I needed at BMCC, I developed the skills I needed to be a leader at SJC,” Lindsay said. “The importance of emotional intelligence, how to motivate people and how to bring the best out of my colleagues – this experience helped me launch the next stage of my career.”
For an institution driven by a mission to serve others and transform the world for the better, Lindsay’s example is particularly salient to the St. Joseph’s community.
“The values of service and social responsibility lie at the core of the College’s mission — we seek to instill them in all our students,” St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., said. “Sandra’s distinguished career and commitment to serving and teaching others exemplifies these values. She is an inspiration to us all and I couldn’t be prouder to count her among our alumni.”
Following her time at SJC Brooklyn, Lindsay earned a graduate degree at CUNY Herbert Lehman College in 2010 and certificates in executive leadership and financial management at Cornell University. Her career continued to advance into leadership roles, first at Lenox Hill Hospital, and most recently as a nurse manager at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
Even after two decades of continued success, Lindsay isn’t content to rest upon her accomplishments – she’s working towards earning a doctorate in global health, leadership and organizational behavior at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona.
“One of the things I am proudest of is that I’ve always worked hard and remained humble in the pursuit of my dreams. I’ve always made education a priority,” she said.
Three weeks after receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Lindsay received the second dose on Jan. 4 — from the same colleague in the same place that she helped turned the tide in the fight against the pandemic. Along with a sense of gratitude and relief, the vaccine and the subsequent attention has made it so that Lindsay is now recognized on the street … with her mask on.
“It’s one thing to be talked up on the social media pages of your family and to have your mother boast about you,” she said. “It’s quite another to have strangers walk up to you and say they recognize you. When you ask them where you know them from and they say, ‘I know your eyes,’ it puts the importance of what we’ve done and what we still have left to do to put the darkness of the past year behind us.”