Just What the Doctor Ordered

Sandy Sidhu is perhaps experiencing a sense of familial deja vu.

As Nazneen Khan on the NBC drama “Nurses,” Sandy Sidhu is replicating in fiction her own mother’s journey to Canada while putting her own academic achievements to work.

The Canadian series centers around a group of nurses in a busy Toronto hospital. Sidhu says the cast immediately felt a “special chemistry” on set. Though this is her first starring role on a show, Sidhu would definitely be one to know.

Sandy Sidhu as Nazneen Khan on “Nurses” Courtesy of Ian Watson.

Before taking up acting professionally, Sidhu earned a degree in cell biology and genetics from the University of British Columbia. For many, this is the stepping stone to the Medical College Admission Test.

But Sidhu’s heart was not in it. She was already taking acting classes on the side and knew that the spotlight — and not science or medicine — was her calling. 

“I had another path clearly laid out for me, and I never wanted to take it,” she said.

Art Starts Imitating Life

After years of uncertainty, her fork-in-the-road choice is now looking very astute. The British Columbia-born actor is even able to use her education in a show that, much like the Canadian medical series “Transplant,” was picked up by NBC after pandemic production shutdowns left it with little original content to air.

Sidhu knows the additional reach of the U.S. network broadcast will amplify her visibility, but the role itself has been the greatest gift. Sidhu’s character, Nazneen, immigrates from India to Canada to be a nurse — just like Sidhu’s real-life mom, who still works in a hospital. 

“I had very personal reasons for wanting to honor this role,” said Sidhu. “And this is my first lead. So when I found out I booked job, I felt like a kid in a candy store.”

This isn’t the first time her academic bonafides have overlapped with her acting. Sidhu’s mini-breakout came in an award-winning, star-making, ratings-drawing series known everywhere, from Hollywood to Mumbai. 

“If I were to look at the moment in my career where everything really changed for doors opening, it was after ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” she said. Sidhu had only appeared in one episode, playing a lawyer, not a health care worker.

Still, from her mother to her degree to her first major series to her current role on “Nurses,” there has been a lot of connective tissue guiding Sidhu’s journey.

The Scary, Uncertain Path

Getting to this point wasn’t easy. About three years ago, Sidhu had serious doubts about her choices. She took a hard look in the mirror and asked herself if she really wanted to do this. Would it all be worth it even if the elusive notion of making it might never come?

I’m an individual who has the capacity to be successful in something else that I may not love as much,” she said. But the fulfillment and sense of achievement she got from her craft easily won out. “That feeling I get isn’t worth giving up on.”

Not long after, and perhaps as a direct result of mentally committing to being an actor no matter what, more work — and more-rewarding work — started to come her way. Those parts which eventually led to more significant roles, in “Grey’s Anatomy,” and now “Nurses,” brought in much-needed income, confidence, and relief.

Back when she dropped the option of going into medicine, Sidhu admits fearing her parents would be disappointed with her chasing a dream instead of professional stability. 

There is so much guilt that comes with being first-generation Canadian,” said Sidhu. “Your parents work so hard to provide for you and build you this amazing life. And then you want to go and be an artist?” So she nervously avoided the conversation for weeks. 

But when she brought it up, they were her biggest supporters. Her mom told her to go for it, saying, “Just make sure you work very, very hard.”

A grateful Sidhu says, “I grew up with an incredibly compassionate, empathetic, and loving mother, who is also a nurse and genuinely loves her job…. “What I didn’t realize was that my parents knew me better than I did,” she said. “They weren’t shocked.”

Encouraging Others to Follow Their Heart

For years, after many small roles and gigs taken for a paycheck, Sidhu felt she was on the cusp of a larger project. There was always one problem: the casting directors just didn’t really know who she was. Experience spawns experience, and Sidhu didn’t have eye-popping credits.

It’s a big gift for the producers to take a chance on me and allow me to play Nazneen … It’s not only been a dream role but it’s put me in a different bracket in the industry,” Sidhu says. She knows this break was not guaranteed.

“It can look from the outside like there is a clear trajectory and clear upward mobility, but when you’re actually walking that path …, you have no idea if it’s going to pan out,” she says.

Sidhu says she has reached a point where the fulfillment has made the struggle worth it. This has prompted her to encourage everyone she meets to follow their instincts and pursue their passion.

It’s scary trusting something that you can’t explain,” she says. Whatever it was, that it was always driving her this way “There is just that whisper in your heart that tends to get louder and louder. And then it becomes something that you realize is your answer.”

At that point, Sidhu says, “you just have to have the courage to follow through with it.”