Sandra Denise Bruce Nichols, MD

CLASS OF 1976

Sandra Nichols, MD, has served as director of the Arkansas Department of Health since 1994, when she was appointed to that position by the Governor of Arkansas. In this position, she serves as the state's top medical officer.

Dr. Nichols was born in Little Rock, the fifth of the six children of Mrs. Ether Bruce (now Lipkins) and Esau Bruce. Her parents were divorced when she was four or five years old and she was raised by her mother. For several years Mrs. Lipkins and her six children lived in public housing in the section of Little Rock known as "East End" in a three-bedroom project home. Young Sandra and one of her sisters slept with their mother. One of the driving forces in her life is the memory of awakening during the night to see her mother studying.

This studying was necessary because Mrs. Lipkins had decided that education was the way out of poverty. She refused welfare and worked as a maid cleaning homes in the morning (sometimes having to scrub tile with a toothbrush). Each day after her housecleaning chores were completed she attended classes, working toward her general equivalency degree (GED). In the evenings she cleaned the office of Dr. Jerry Jewell, a dentist. She took her children with her to that job so she could see that they did their homework. Finally, back home with the children in bed, Mrs. Lipkins had time to do her own studying.

Mrs. Lipkins ultimately received her GED and went on to obtain a BA in Education from Philander Smith College and an MA from Ouachita Baptist University. She is now a teacher at Forest Heights Junior High School.

Sandra Nichols' father, now in a Little Rock nursing home, says that she first said she wanted to be a doctor when she was three years old. Many people, even her mother, told her that was an unrealistic goal. The effect was to make her feel that she "had to prove she could."

Dr. Nichols' entire pre-collegiate education was in the Little Rock Public Schools and she remembers her educational experiences in the public schools fondly. The little girl who was to become Dr. Nichols spent her first three school years at Carver Elementary School, where basketball legend Sidney Moncrief and his future wife, Deborah Bunting, were also students. She remembers outstanding teachers, particularly Bobbie Johnson and her first-grade teacher, Mrs.Lillie Stanmore. She fondly recalls principal Herbert Denton.

When Sandra was eight, Mrs. Lipkins bought her first house, on Marshall Street, and Sandra attended the fourth through sixth grades at Ish Elementary School. She particularly remembers Charles Pruitt, who taught math and carried a paddle. Lavish in both his praise and his criticism, Mr. Pruitt instilled courage and competitiveness in his students.

Dr. Nichols' seventh-grade year at Dunbar Junior High was uneventful. Then at Horace Mann, where she spent the eighth and ninth grades, her communication skills began to come to the fore when she ran for and was elected secretary of the student council in the ninth grade. At Mann, she particularly recalls the influence of an English teacher, Alice Bush, who is also the mother of John Bush, an assistant United States Attorney in Little Rock.

When she arrived at Parkview High School, the future Dr. Nichols blossomed. During the spring of her sophomore year she ran for junior class president and won. After her junior year, she attended Girls State and was elected lieutenant governor. She ran for president of the student body. After a vigorous campaign, she was elected the first African American and second female president of Parkview's student body.

She graduated in the class of 1976. She remembers her high school days very fondly. Many of her high school friends of both races remain her good friends today. The most important person in her life other than her mother was her high school biology teacher, Ellen Neaville, who planted the seed in her mind that she really could be a doctor.

After high school, Sandra Nichols attended Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, where she received a BA in Chemistry in 1980. She received an MA in Biology from Tennessee State University in 1982. She was awarded the MD degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1988. She completed her residency program in Family Medicine in 1991 and was chief resident during her final year.

Before being appointed Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, Dr. Nichols' professional career was diverse and included serving as a physician for area nursing homes, Arkansas Primary Care, Rainbow Babies and Children, Spectrum Emergency Medicine, the Mid-Delta Clinic, the Delta Area Health Agency, and UAMS.

As a result of her professional and personal achievements Dr. Nichols has received numerous awards and honors, including the Boatmen's Women of Distinction Award, Top Ten Women in Arkansas' Top 100, Public Health Leadership Institute Scholar, and Outstanding Young Women in America. Dedicated to her community, Dr. Nichols works with numerous organizations and sits on the board of directors of the Arkansas Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. She has formerly served on the boards of the United Way of Arkansas and Winrock International. She is a member of Women Executives in State Government.

Dr. Nichols is married to Ronnie Nichols, the director of the Old State House Museum and a Central High School graduate. They have one daughter, Marquise, who will be in the first grade at King Magnet School this fall.


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