Sandra Whitley Ryals is an experienced health care leader in nursing, health policy, political networking, & volunteer involvement at the regional, state, and national levels. Career highlights include "At Will" gubernatorial appointments by two governors of the Commonwealth of Virginia, now both U.S. Senators.
Appointed by Governor Timothy Kaine, Sandra served as Agency Director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions and also Chief Deputy Director of the Department. Collaborative accomplishments during this term included the establishment of the Healthcare Workforce Data Center and leading dramatic improvements (90%) in resolving disciplinary cases without sacrificing public safety.
Prior to Governor Kaine’s appointments, Ms. Ryals served in Governor Warner’s administration as Executive Director of the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation where she led a statewide comprehensive approach to decrease the number of youth who smoke in the Commonwealth. Also during Governor Warner’s term, she served as Chief Deputy Director at the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. In that role, she developed total quality improvement initiatives for the agency and directed agency legislation.
Ms. Ryals has over 40 years experience in the healthcare field from the bedside to the boardside, including Public Health Nurse Director for the Roanoke City Health District and Coordinator for Children’s Specialty Services with the Virginia Department of Health. In addition, she was a health care consultant and taught nursing students at Radford University and the College of Health Sciences.
Extensive volunteer leadership in professional and civic activities includes previous terms on the ANA-PAC Board of Trustees, State President for the Virginia Nurses Association, VNA-PAC Chair, and Founding Member, Legislative Coalition of Virginia Nurses. Ms Ryals was appointed by Roanoke City Council to the Roanoke Civic Center Commission and was elected Vice-Chair.
Sandy’s passion and enthusiasm about nurses’ involvement in health policy and political arena was exemplified by organizing and leading over 1,000 nurses & student nurses for the first “Walk for Healthy Virginians.” She was the first woman and only nurse to be elected as Chair of the Sixth Congressional District Democratic Committee plus Chair of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, served two terms on the Democratic Party of Virginia State Steering Committee, and led numerous nursing groups to inform & support candidates who have advocated for the nursing profession.
As a lifelong healthcare advocate, Ms Ryals helped found the Child Health Investment Partnership (CHIP) and the Roanoke Adolescent Health Partnership (RAHP). She was awarded the 2001 Centennial Heritage Award for Leadership in Health Law from the University of Virginia.
Ms Ryals is a registered nurse. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Virginia, her master’s degree in education from Virginia Tech, and was certified in advanced nursing administration by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Additional preparation includes completion with the Virginia Executive Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University; Health Policy Institute, George Mason University; and the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership, University of Virginia.
Ms. Ryals is married to James Holt Ryals of Emporia, Virginia who is retired from Norfolk Southern Railway. They have a son, Jim Ryals, daughter-in-law Holliday, and two grandsons Holt and Tyler, who reside in Bayville, New York.