When Brienne Sandow, 37, was in high school, nursing was far from her mind. What she was interested in, was drag racing. At first, she went to watch a boy she was dating at the time, but then “I started drag racing my car – a 1993 Toyota Tercel. I got second place my junior year in points,” she says.
In college, Sandow focused on psychology. Thinking she might want to be a nurse, she took some biology courses, but after “the hardest semester of my whole life” and two disappointing Cs later, Sandow settled for a couple of bachelor’s degrees, in psychology and in family and consumer sciences. Then life happened. “I got engaged, got married and worked at the YMCA,” she says.
But, the question kept nagging her: “Do I still want to do nursing?” Heeding “the best advice my dad ever gave me – ‘don’t let the bastards get you down,’” Sandow decided to try for her third bachelor’s degree in nursing. This time, “I did really well – no more Cs.”
While going to nursing school, Sandow worked in Labor and Delivery as a nurse apprentice, then was hired on as a nurse after graduating. And, while that department is mostly “a really happy place,” she says, “when things go wrong it can be really, really bad. The common thread was the ability to connect with my patients.”
After working as a charge nurse then clinical supervisor, Sandow decided to get her master of science in nursing degree. In 2014, she became director of nursing of the clinical support unit, the organ tissue requestor donation program, and the inpatient diabetic educators at St. Luke’s.
Today, with 160 nurses and CNAs reporting to her, Sandow looks to two for inspiration in her work: Mother Theresa and Sheryl Sandberg. “Mother Teresa, she’s sort of tantamount to Florence Nightingale.” Sandberg, she says, is a role model for women. “There are days I feel like I’m making a difference at work, days I feel like I’m making a difference at home, and days I feel like I’m making a difference in the community.”
Sandow also credits her parents. “My greatest influences have been my parents,” she says. “Everything I know about work ethic, the value of relationships and the significance of a person’s character I learned from them.”
In addition, Sandow strives to abide daily by a Colin Powell quote that is on the wall: “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Nursing is hard, Sandow says. “Your goal as a nurse is to make the best of every situation, to make this situation as good as it’s going to get. We have to be so dialed in to taking care of the staff so they can take care of their patients. We want them to bring us their problems.”
Sandow says she has “a lot of passion” for her work and is excited about continuing to make a difference right where she is. “I was born at St. Luke’s and will probably die at St. Luke’s and will spend 95 percent of my life here in between … I aspire to become a transformational leader in nursing, both locally and nationally, serving my patients, colleagues, and profession in the capacities where I am needed most.”
She is active in a number of nursing organizations and is an advocate for healthcare policy as well as a volunteer for the United Way and the March of Dimes.
Sandow and her husband, Ron, a nurse practitioner at St. Luke’s, have two daughters, Sophia, 8 (almost 9), and Olivia, 5. The family enjoys skiing, swimming and travel. Last year, when her husband turned 40, he wanted to go to be on The Price is Right television show. “We totally figured it out.”
Most memorable airplane trip: “It was in 1999, I was a junior in college and went to England with my best friend to study abroad. I had never been overseas before. It was the longest flight I’d ever been on, the biggest plane. We got to go to Harrods in London to see the 2000 New Year. It’s the biggest adventure I’ve had – so far.”