After more than 15 years of working as a clinical trials coordinator with Dr. Stewart Harris and the diabetes team, Sheila Porter, RN, is retiring at the end of April.
In 1999, Porter came on board with the Department in a contract position.
“They were looking for nurses who could read [and review] doctors’ charts,” said Porter.
On what she thought was the last day of her contract, Dr. Harris approached Porter and asked her to stay on with the Department and to continue working together. At that time the diabetes “team” was just Dr. Harris and one other person. Today, the team sits at 12 members.
Porter began working full-time, which for her has always been four days per week. However, after a while she missed the clinical work and dealing with people directly.
“I was tired of reading charts, and I knew Dr. Harris always had pharmaceutical reps interested in trials,” she noted.
Porter came up with the idea of clinical trials, and the rest as they say, is history.
The clinical trials unit is small; two investigators, Dr. Harris, and Dr. Sonja Reichert, along with Porter, and Mauricio Marin. According to Porter, “it has been kept small, and it works well.”
Originally, there was no room to see patients in the Centre for Studies for Family Medicine space at Collip Circle, so the clinical trials operated out of the Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care. Fast forward to today, and the clinical trials are operating out of their new space in the Western Centre for Public Health and Family Medicine. And, Dr. Rob Petrella and his team are now also using the clinical trials space.
For Porter, the clinical trials really brought her career full circle. She enjoyed once again working with people, being able to make them feel comfortable, and sharing information in a teaching role (a passion of hers).
“While it wasn’t a mandatory part of the job description, I used my nursing judgement and skills in conducting the trials,” she said. “Dr. Harris felt confident that he could leave a trial in my hands, and I would just run with it. I guess that happens when you work with people for a while.”
Porter noted that Dr. Harris always gave her an opportunity for learning and traveling.
“I attended conferences across the country, from Newfoundland to British Columbia. It added another piece to the work picture. It was always exciting.”
Looking back on her career, Porter feels good about her contributions.
“It’s nice to finish my general nursing career on this high note. I went from working in the hospital to a family practice, to an infertility clinic, and then to research,” said Porter. “[Clinical trials] were a nice summation to end my career.”
Recounting how she was recently told by a patient, “you’ve made a difference in my life,” Porter smiles.
“It’s affirmation of your work and a lovely sentiment,” she said.
Although she will miss her colleagues, Porter is looking forward to new adventures.
“I can retire now, knowing I made a difference in others’ lives.”
She hopes to enjoy a relaxing spring and summer with her husband, who retired two years prior, at their cottage in the Kawarthas, Stoney Lake area.
“We have great friends up at the cottage, and they are also retired. I love sharing it with people.”
Porter also sees a lot of grandmother time ahead, as her daughter and son-in-law expect their second child, a sibling for Porter’s three year old grandson.
With a trip to Boston to visit friends planned for June, another to North Carolina for a wedding in the fall, Porter’s ideas about volunteering will have to wait.
Thinking back on her years in the Department, Porter recalls, “It’s a collegial environment when running studies. We are a small unit here, but our studies are often done with other centres. We have meetings and workshops with people working in the same area.”
When asked if she had any last words, or thoughts, on her pending retirement, Porter said, “I hope to start a trend amongst others upstairs, in terms of retiring.”
Notes from colleagues:
“Sheila is a wonderful combination of tenacity and meticulousness all wrapped up in a warm and friendly personality.” – Susan Webster-Bogaert
“Words that come to mind when I think of Sheila: bright, organized, professional, collaborative, perceptive, thoughtful, sympathetic and caring. In research and in life, all of us should aspire to be like Sheila.” – Cathy Thorpe
“It's been a real pleasure to share this time with such a valuable and kind person. You were always friendly and ready to help and support patients and colleagues. We have learned a lot from your organized and methodical work style and your attention to details. You will never be forgotten and you will always be a reference for what an outstanding employee and friend should be. We hope your life will always be like the sky at 10 after 9." – Best, Mauricio and Marnie
“Sheila is such a wonderful person, and I will miss her. She is warm and caring, and a great colleague and friend. Enjoy your retirement and more time with family.” – Maureen Kennedy