Mary Zirpoli

Mary Zirpoli, RN

South Medical Services
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
United States

Mary Zirpoli, RN
South Medical Services

I am writing to call your attention to an “unsung hero” at CHP. Although you know how much I have always valued the entire CHP nursing staff, it is more difficult to recognize “certain diamonds in the rough,” especially those nestled quietly away in our outreach facilities making a difference day in and day out. As you know, we will never be able to individually recognize every outstanding nurse in our hospital, but we will always be more challenged to identify those in the satellites who care mainly for outpatients off-site. Such a challenge notwithstanding, I want to recognize the best example of such excellence in nursing with whom I have had the honor of working for well over a decade, Mary Zirpoli.

A career pediatric nurse for 30 years (CHP just recognized her anniversary this past year), there is little question when one observes Mary, that Pediatric Nursing is not a job, but a calling and a vocation. She began her career as a floor nurse for three years. She then worked for three subsequent years in the out-patient pediatric clinic at Mercy Hospital until returning to ambulatory care at CHP where she continues to practice.

Her work ethic is unrivaled. Despite her responsibilities to a very large family, she is often the first to arrive and the last to leave. Flexibility is her middle name. She insures that every detail of patient care is addressed. No balls are ever dropped. She does not engage in time intensive responsibilities at the expense of facilitating the day or adding to the responsibilities of others. Instead, she supports the team during the chaotic mayhem of clinics and spends time with families on the phone after hours. To describe Mary as a “team player” incompletely captures her positive influence on the work environment. If the clinic is running late (which I am afraid to say is the rule and not the exception), she readily offers to stay. When adversity confronts a patient or a co-worker, she is the first ear that listens, eye that sees, and heart that commiserates.

Mary’s extraordinary fund of knowledge derives from three distinct sources; an erudite intellect, greater than 3 decades of pediatric nursing experience, and a never-ending curiosity that prompts investigation into any problem she does not understand. I would be remiss if I failed to add that being the Mother of five children has provided a plethora of on-the-job training as well. Her personal pediatrician, Dr. Dick Lanz, once told me that that despite being a “self-proclaimed hard-headed German”, if he disagrees with Mary, she is the one Mother who is always right when he is wrong! If you know Dr. Lanz, that is high praise.

More impressive is her application of this knowledge to medical problems which confront her. As a nurse who is a mother first, Mary intuitively understands how to strike the perfect balance between the “science” and the “art” of pediatrics. She will spend as much time as parents require supporting them through the struggles of the post-operative period. She carefully and patiently explains what is normal while empowering them to execute strategies that will ease their burdens. Her ability to separate what is physically “real” from what is emotionally confounding is uncanny. She listens, evaluates, trouble-shoots, and never disrespects or dismisses a concern. She is equally effective in face-to-face encounters when she answers questions and performs pre-operative teaching. I have stopped tallying the number of compliments paid to Mary by parents. When I am told that a “wonderful phone nurse was kind and understanding,” I now start by asking if that nurse was named Mary. Nine times out of ten, the parent quickly confirms, “That’s her!” In those instances where “bad news” is delivered, Mary’s support is often the most important service our health care team provides. In the most difficult circumstances, she knows what to say and when to say it. She also senses when all that is needed is a silent, heartfelt and empathetic arm around a shoulder or hand holding a child’s or parent’s hand. I realize that these qualities derive more from the person that Mary is rather than from the professional she trained to become. I ask, however, whether there really is such a defined delineation between the two. Aren’t we and our patients blessed to have both?

Mary’s “professional accolades” impressive as they may be, are only surpassed by her personal qualities. Until I met Mary, I never thought anyone existed about whom no one had anything negative to say. Her kindness is equally extended to everyone from patients to parents to doctors to schedulers to other nurses to residents, medical students, fellows and administrative staff. The verdict is unanimous and unified in singing her praises. No one is forgotten or deprived of her smile and greetings.

When I was a fellow, I drove this dear woman crazy. ENT ran an evening clinic that was staffed by one nurse (Mary Zirpoli) and the fellow on call. The weather was inclement one Tuesday night and the most maniacal fellow was, unfortunately for Mary, on call. I feared the weather would result in many cancellations and failures. I proactively called all of the patients in early and gave others the option of rescheduling their appointments. Mary spent an inordinate amount of time driving to Oakland in a notable snow storm from her suburban South Hills residence only to find me seeing the last patient. To the knowledge of neither me nor Mary, a member of our facilities maintenance department witnessed the encounter. He later saw me in the hall walking towards the parking garage and said, “Boy, you are mighty lucky it was that nurse who drove all that way in this weather for “nuthin”—she’s the one we all call the saint!” And that she is along with a blessing and a privilege to provide care to children alongside. If any nurse exemplifies the ideal of what all at CHP nurses should strive to be, it’s Mary Zirpoli. If any person exemplifies the consummate ideal of co-worker and friend, it’s Mary Zirpoli as well.