A Champion for the Community with Victory in Her Name

In the sun-kissed islands of the Caribbean, a narrative of strength, sacrifice, and a relentless quest for knowledge unfolds. When you meet Dr. Nicole Craigwell-Syms, you don’t just encounter a woman—you experience a movement. She is a monument to what can happen when sheer will meets opportunity. Born in Trinidad, schooled in sports, and educated in academia, her life journey is a spellbinding tapestry that now finds her shaping the healthcare narratives in the Virgin Islands as the Assistant Commissioner of the VI Department of Health. This is not merely a story of breaking ceilings and defying odds. It’s about what you do after you’ve shattered those limitations.

Often, the stories of women who shatter glass ceilings, dispel myths, and pay no heed to doubters are few and far between.

Mother, Tennis, and the Birth of a Future Leader

Nicole’s life was always destined for trajectory—not simply because she was a promising young tennis player, but because of the remarkable woman who raised her. Her mother wasn’t just a parent; she was a sorceress who transformed every hurdle into stepping stones.

“My mother, my role model and source of inspiration, didn’t hesitate to make significant sacrifices to pave a smoother path for me.”

Armed with an athletic scholarship, Nicole enrolled at Norfolk State University and later Alabama State University, where she led her team to the Nationals for three consecutive years. She could turn pro, but her passion for learning was non-negotiable.

“My passion for education kept burning, leading me to maintain my focus on learning.”

At Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), Nicole dived deep into Public and Business Administration programs, completing her Masters in an astonishing 1.5 years. This wasn’t just learning but a voracious intellectual hunger being satiated.

A Journey to Public Health

While many follow a clear path in their career, Nicole stumbled upon her true calling. Her foray into public health was no random detour. As a Budget Analyst, she discovered the ineffable satisfaction of performance metrics. But her personality had other plans. Someone saw a hidden side of her: a fierce advocate for public health, a champion for the vulnerable, and a catalyst for community wellness. And so began a new chapter. It aligned perfectly with her core values and societal aspirations. As the Assistant Commissioner of the VI Department of Health, she now grapples with challenges such as limited resources and health disparities. Her focus, however, remains steadfast—instilling healthy behaviors, confronting health inequities, and fostering environments that prioritize comprehensive well-being.

An intrinsic desire to contribute positively to the community aligns seamlessly with establishing equity in public health.

Her role isn’t just to supervise and allocate—it’s to inspire change on both the individual and societal levels. Nicole focuses on preemptive approaches to mental and behavioral health, fostering an environment that makes health a conversation, not a consequence.

The Eternal Balancer

Balancing her high-profile career with personal well-being is an art that Nicole has mastered. Her methods are diverse—be it acquiring a new tattoo, enjoying an 8-mile walk embellished with positive affirmations, or simply basking in the joy of a basket full of mangoes. She believes that work-life balance isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a necessity for comprehensive well-being. Nicole has developed the perfect tools and methods to nourish her soul.

“Love stands as the quintessential tool for achieving equilibrium and balance in life.”

Nicole’s life is an inspiring testament to what can be achieved when a dual engine of ambition and purpose drives one. Her story is more than a list of accomplishments; it is a call to action for women and everyone who seeks to make an indelible impact on their community. Nicole reminds us that while our beginnings may define our journey, they do not have to determine our destination.

The Future Beckons

We make it happen for this community.

Her vision for the future is transparent—fortifying public health through social services, reducing disparities, and instilling lifestyle changes from foundational education upwards. Nicole wants healthcare to occupy the same conversational space as every other facet of life. It’s a lofty aim, but if anyone can do it, it’s Nicole. The Virgin Islands may face geographical limitations and resource scarcity, but these become puzzles, not problems, for her creative public health team. 

“My ultimate vision is for health and healthcare to occupy the same level of discourse, acceptance, and anticipation as any other facet of our lives.”

A Compassionate Conversation

How does she engage with the local community? By being accessible, listening, and treating each conversation as an irreplaceable nugget of insight. She steps out of her office to step into lives, erasing the boundaries between a government official and the community she serves.

It’s remarkable how a straightforward, in-person dialogue, accompanied by a sincere smile and a compassionate disposition, can dismantle many barriers.

In a lighter vein, Dr. Syms shared an intriguing fact about herself that surprised us pleasantly. “Prepare to be amazed – I am a certified air conditioning technician.” She described this endeavor as a pursuit that starkly contrasts the realm of “mental work,” bridging the gap between hands-on engagement and cognitive pursuits. 

Dr. Craigwell-Syms’ rich tapestry of roles — Assistant Commissioner for the VI Department of Health, life coach, mental health professional, and yes, even an AC technician — paints a portrait of a multifaceted individual who is deeply committed to enhancing the well-being of her community. Whether she’s delving into the complexities of the human mind or alleviating immediate stress through life coaching, Dr. Syms navigates the nuances of her diverse roles with a unifying sense of purpose: to uplift and inspire those around her. 

So, who is Nicole? She’s a daughter reflecting her mother’s courage, a scholar who chose wisdom over fame, a passionate public servant, and a woman whose story isn’t just hers—it’s an inkwell of inspiration for others to write their own stories of impact and meaning. And perhaps most importantly, she is a harbinger of hope for the community she serves, lovingly stitching a fabric of well-being, one thread at a time.

“This is my way of contributing to the cause, of kindling the fire within others to create a better, healthier world.”

The story of Nicole is still in the making, but it already serves as a masterclass in purpose, passion, and the profound change one can make when one decides to be more than just a role—they choose to be a legacy.

Dr. Nicole Craigwell-Syms is the Assistant Commissioner of the US Virgin Islands Department of Health.
She is from Trinidad, WI and is a resident of St. Thomas, USVI
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