by Ellen Miller

After 45 years of serving Portsmouth Regional Hospital (PRH) patients and her colleagues as a nurse, nurse leader, emergency department director, and patient advocate, Georgette Shapiro decided the end of 2022 was the right time for her to retire. She thinks back over the last four decades with pride, sharing both good memories and emotional ones, and says, “I never thought about leaving, not once.”

Clearly, she’s still not thinking about it.

Despite retiring, she still comes into work at PRH two or three times a week as a patient advocate. And she’s thinking about volunteering at the hospital, so she’ll be here a little more often.

It’s not an easy place for her to leave, and that’s ok with us.

Georgette and her husband, Dann, moved to New Hampshire in 1977 when Dann’s employer transferred him to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It wasn’t an easy move, but one they’ve never regretted.

“My first day was in February 1977, back then it was the ‘hospital on the hill.’ I was so nervous and sad because I was leaving my home in Rhode Island, and leaving the hospital where I had been an LPN and was given a scholarship to become an RN,” Georgette said. “But on my first day at Portsmouth I was introduced to the nurse who would be orientating me to my new job, her name was Patti (Duty) Trefethen, and we immediately clicked. I knew pretty quickly that I had found my professional home.”

If you’ve ever stepped foot in Portsmouth Regional Hospital, then you probably met Georgette at some point. And no doubt, you still remember her. She has that kind of positive, lasting impact.

“About 20 years ago, I was in Macy’s and it was quite crowded. I was waiting in line and there were two women behind me. When another register opened up I went to that one, and the women followed me, and then tapped me on the shoulder. The younger of the two, about 20 years old, asked me if I was Georgette Shapiro. She said that when she was a little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, she came into the ED with burns and I cared for her. She said that she had just written an essay for nursing school, and it was about me. She said the care I provided that day, the way I treated her, made her want to become a nurse. And she did become a nurse, and eventually came to work here at Portsmouth.”

That’s not a surprise for anyone who knows Georgette. She has never been just a provider of medical care; she provides human care. She provides support, a hug, a laugh, or whatever we need, including inspiration, say to become a nurse when you grow up.

She also enjoys mentoring young nurse leaders – a key piece of advice she gives? Find the balance.

“I tell young nurse leaders, you only come this way once, you need to focus on your home life, and your work life. You need to find the balance,” she says. “And you also need to remember that when you’re caring for a patient, you have no idea what else they’re going through, and what kind of impact you’ll have on them. And I tell them about the woman in Macy’s. I never imagined all those years ago when I cared for a little girl with burns that she’d find me in a store years later and tell me I inspired her to become a nurse, that I was the subject of her application essay for nursing school. That’s an amazing compliment, and one I cherish.”

She also encourages them to keep a sense of humor. Anyone in healthcare knows that the days can be hard, so we need to find the humor and enjoy life’s little moments – like dressing up as Mrs. Claus to give presents to the children of staff; or dressing as Florence Nightingale during Nurses Week.

Even if she didn’t always walk the talk on work-life balance, she wouldn’t change a thing. Nursing is in her blood. In this case, that blood is orange and blue.

It goes back to her aunt Adele. When Georgette’s paternal grandmother was a teenager growing up in Luca, Italy, she was hired as a nanny for a well-to-do family, the Bertolli family (yes, that Bertolli – the olive oil), who brought her to the U.S. She stayed here, married and had a family – Georgette’s father and her aunt Adele.

Adele helped take care of Georgette, and proved to be a role model and mentor. She was a nurse for many years, eventually becoming a nurse leader and instructor at Corpus Christi (Texas) Medical Center. The orange and blue blood? Well, the hospital where Adele worked is owned by HCA Healthcare.

“I learned a lot from my aunt, and it never occurred to me to do anything other than nursing, it’s what I wanted to do since I was a little girl,” Georgette said. “And it’s not just me, my youngest sister is also a nurse, a chief nursing officer actually, and my middle sister is a psychiatrist. My son sells vascular surgery medical equipment, and my daughter is a senior systems analyst for Mayo Clinic, so healthcare is definitely in my family.”

In addition to being a wife and mom, a nurse and patient advocate, Georgette is a grandmother, a eucharistic minister, a volunteer and board member at local non-profits. She’s a gardener (roses are her specialty) and now she’s learning to quilt and knit. She’s not one for sitting still, she always wants to be doing something to help people – patients or not.

“My parents always taught me to be true to your religion, education, good work ethics and to give back, because we only go this way once,” Georgette said. “Mom always said treat people as you or someone in your family should be treated. I never forgot that as nurse. And even as I move into retirement, my goal going forward is to concentrate on the patient experience.

“I have been very fortunate, I had the privilege to witness a turning point of medical care in Portsmouth – from the day open heart surgery started here, to becoming a Level II trauma center, a Chest Pain Center, Comprehensive Stroke Center and so much more. When I say it was a privilege to be a part of this team and to witness our staff going to great lengths to care for our community, I mean it. It has truly been a privilege.”

For us too, Georgette!