To Help Colleagues, One of the Longest Beards in Duke Hospital Gets a Shave

Sam Willsey, bearded and clean shaven.
Sam Willsey, bearded and clean shaven.

Sam Willsey is known for having the longest beard on the Duke University Hospital 6 East Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). But when he noticed his colleagues were preparing to care for patients being screened for COVID-19, he quickly parted ways with his facial hair.

“I didn't have any patients, but I would've felt horrible letting my three coworkers do all of the rule outs," Willsey said. “I ran to the 6 West SICU (surgical intensive care unit), got the electric razor and shaved my beard off in the bathroom."

A rule out is triggered when a patient is tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting the results. The patient is placed under precautions until a result is confirmed. Being clean shaven allowed Willsey to pass the seal check on his N95 mask, a critical piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that prevents coronavirus infection. His selfless act and team spirit impressed nursing colleague Nico Posada.

“Sam went above and beyond to apply the principles of the Duke Health values, specifically teamwork, safety and excellence," Posada said. “I'm proud to work with such a great team in the MICU. People like Sam, with this type of positive energy, recharge the batteries of health care workers and help our MICU continue to be great." 

There is an alternative to the N95 mask called a Powered Air Purifying Respirator or PAPR mask. It would allow Willsey to grow his beard back and remain protected. But since not everyone can wear an N95 mask because of the shape of their face, he's opted to continue to shave.

“That way our supply of PAPR masks is available to those who can only wear them," he said. “I'll keep shaving until this pandemic ends."​​