A Living Legend in Massachusetts Nursing

Aimee Blaquiere | May 09, 2012
A Living Legend in Massachusetts Nursing

Professor Emerita of Nursing Frances L. Portnoy has received the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses’ 2012 Living Legend Award. She was nominated by her dear friend and colleague, Professor Linda Dumas, of our College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Professor Portnoy has been active in the field of community nursing and gerontology for over 50 years. In addition to a lifelong passion for both nursing and sociology, she is known as an exceptionally kind person, who is loved and respected by many as both a mentor and a friend. On winning this award, Professor Portnoy says she is “amazed to be in the company of people who have made such a big contribution to nursing and healthcare, such as one of the previous award winners, Dr. Anne Kibrick."

During the early part of her career, Professor Portnoy served as a cadet nurse during WWII, an infant nurse in a kibbutz in the Galilee, and a visiting nurse in Philadelphia, where she also received her baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She went on to receive her MS in community nursing at Boston University, and her PhD through a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, in Sociology. Shortly after receiving her PhD, she began her academic career as part of the Boston University faculty at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. She also began to pursue her interest in documentary film-making for the purpose of nursing education.

In 1978, Professor Portnoy learned that the new baccalaureate program in nursing at Boston State College was recruiting faculty, and she decided to join the college. When Boston State College closed, the nursing school moved to UMass Boston. Along with her colleagues, Professor Portnoy initiated a Program of Health Studies at UMass Boston. While at the university, she received a joint appointment in gerontology and nursing, and later served as Interim Dean of the College of Nursing. Her interest in gerontology led to a Fulbright Scholar Award in Norway. In Norway, Professor Portnoy built an international reputation with her research on nurse assistant training and education for the care of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

While at UMass Boston, Professor Portnoy developed lasting friendships with colleagues. Her colleague, Professor Linda Dumas, has this to say to her: “You are a wonderful listener, you always keep it simple and you bring out the best in students and friends.” Another colleague, Cathy Strachan Lindenberg says of Professor Portnoy, “I have always been struck by your sense of the bottom line; the importance of implications for public and social policy… What do we need to do to make the system better for all?” Professor Portnoy describes her time at UMass Boston as “very dynamic and challenging” in terms of having a joint appointment in both nursing and gerontology, and that she “misses it very much.” She continued to teach at the university until her retirement in 1997.

Post-retirement, she continues to be involved with the university by serving on dissertation committees, guest lecturing, collaborating with colleagues to develop long-term care modules in the curricula, and by publishing articles and book chapters in her field. She now resides in a continuing care retirement community, where she serves on the health committees and the technology task force. She continues to publish and lecture about the sociological underpinnings of nursing and health policy. She also keeps in touch with many colleagues and friends from UMass Boston, both current and retired faculty.

This article was compiled from three sources: an article written by Linda Dumas in the March 2012 Massachusetts Report on Nursing, the nomination letter, and from speaking with Professor Portnoy herself.

Photo: From left to right, Anne Hargreaves, Frances L. Portnoy and Anne Kibrick.

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