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Honoring Sandra Bruce Nichols, M.D., FAAFP, MHCDS, M.S.

Dr. Sandra Nichols posing for a photo in a red dress and a white necklace

NMF celebrates a beloved health care servant leader.

With eternal gratitude and heartfelt appreciation, National Medical Fellowships wishes Dr. Sandra B. Nichols, immediate past chair of the NMF Board of Directors, the utmost success and happiness in her next endeavors.

“As I anticipated retirement over the last few years, I began to ask myself what the whys in my life were, and whether I fulfilled those whys,” Dr. Nichols said of her bittersweet resignation. She concluded that it was time for her to step to her next-level of purpose and “use my life and influence to help those in the shadows of America to own their health and to impact the wellness trajectory of future generations (at the grass roots level).”

Dr. Nichols, a 1985 NMF scholarship recipient, devoted more than a decade of incomparable service to our organization – even after surviving a massive myocardial infarction, a third-degree burn, a blood clot, cardiac tamponade, a heart transplant, and six months rehabilitation. She was hailed as a triumphant survivor on CBS Evening News.

“I am a walking miracle,” she said. “We as doctors often say we’re the champions of work-life balance, but obviously we’re not the champions of self-care, of being able to understand why it’s important that we not only take care of others but also ourselves.

“I am living my best life now by faith, focusing on work-life balance, as well as my passions – my family, the health and quality of life in the community at-large, and strategically bringing partners together to serve those in need.” 

Growing up in the East End Projects of Little Rock, Arkansas, Dr. Nichols said she quickly recognized the severe lack of nearby medical care.

“That’s why it became essential for me to become a physician,” she said.

Dr. Nichols earned her undergraduate degree from Columbia College in Missouri, her graduate degree in biology from Tennessee State University, and her medical degree from the University of Arkansas School of Medical Science, at which she also served as secretary of the institution’s Student National Medical Association chapter, chief resident, and completed a fellowship in occupational and environmental medicine.

“We simply needed and still need more doctors who look like the communities they serve.”

But Dr. Nichols didn’t stop there: in fact, ‘accomplished’ is too small a word for the breadth of her educational and professional experiences as a highly sought-after family medicine physician, hospitalist, health care leader, and public health expert.

With over three decades of service and a proven track record of improving patient outcomes and optimizing health care delivery for all, Dr. Nichols has worked as Director and Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Health; Cabinet Secretary and Board of Health Member in the administrations of two Arkansas governors; CEO of Amerigroup D.C. and Virginia; Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of UnitedHealth Group’s Health Inclusion and Community Engagement division; Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of UnitedHealthcare’s National Inpatient Care Management team; Chief Medical Officer of UnitedHealthcare’s Northeast and West Regions; and National Medical Director of Clinical Performance for UnitedHealthcare-AmeriChoice.

Dr. Nichols also furthered her impressive education by graduating from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Leadership Institute at University of California, Berkeley, and earning her Master of Science in Health Care Delivery Science from Dartmouth College.

Her steadfast commitment to and enhancement of health and wellness equity, particularly for intentionally marginalized groups, has earned her multiple recognitions and awards, including Washington Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business, The Daily Record Maryland’s Top 100 Women, Modern Health Care Magazine’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Health Care, and the National Congress of Black Women Inc.

And finally, her twelve-plus years of work with NMF included serving as a volunteer, a Board Member, Vice Chair, Interim CEO at a time when the organization was at an inflection point, and Chair.

“Black, Indigenous, Latino, and People of Color who are students need an organization such as NMF to not only support them but also to provide culturally informed care to medically underserved communities, illuminate health inequities and direct resources to address the barriers that exist.”

“We aim to tell the world about their right to be healthy by fostering authentic relationships and partnerships with funders, grassroots organizations, businesses, and the medical ecosystem while connecting them with underrepresented populations in the communities made most vulnerable,” she said.

In addition to countless hours of service, Dr. Nichols and her husband, Ronnie, donated over $1 million to NMF during her tenure. “I believe we’ve started ‘good trouble,’ and the great work over the last couple of years will exponentially increase NMF’s ability to develop meaningful programs and improve the lives of people and communities nationwide,” Dr. Nichols concluded.

NMF’s highest award, the Dr. Sandra B. Nichols Vanguard Award, is given to those individuals and organizations who through their life’s work in health care commit to improving the health and lives of intentionally marginalized communities, is in honor of Dr. Nichols’ determination to achieve health equity and her enduring generosity. As was fitting, she became the inaugural recipient of the eponymous award at the organization’s first national gala held in 2022 in recognition of her indomitable will to see NMF grow and thrive.

“Dr. Nichols’ passion for NMF knows no bounds,” said Michellene Davis, Esq, president and CEO of NMF, during the bestowing of the award. “Dr. Nichols stepped up to serve as the interim CEO of NMF while facing an incredibly dire health crisis of her own – technically dying three times – and during this devastating time, she stepped in to run NMF from her hospital bed.”

Dr. Nichols said she returned to NMF in September 2019 with reinforced desire to give back.

“With the support and partnership of the executive team and fellow board members, we carried this organization through an exceptionally challenging time, even though it was also my most difficult time because I was fighting for my life. We proved with passion and commitment that a team of exceptional Board members who wanted the best for the organization could help set this organization up for 75 more years.”

“I am now confident that with Michellene Davis, Esq., as CEO, Dr. Bryan Baugh as Chair, and an exceptional Board of committed leaders, NMF will continue this essential journey, carrying forward its values as I stand in awe and admire this progressive organization.”

Every day she awakens, Dr. Nichols said, she has newfound gratitude for life – and that is why she must step away, she added.

“God has given me another chance at life and a new mission,” she said.

National Medical Fellowships is immensely grateful for Dr. Sandra B. Nichols’ profound dedication to our organization. We thank her for her extraordinary service and look forward to watching her live her best life in retirement!