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April 05, 2016

In Memoriam

Morris Shapiro, clinician and educator

Morris Shapiro
Morris Shapiro delivers a lecture to medical students on an emergency medicine rotation in 2013. Shapiro was the oldest active faculty member at the Medical Center. As recently as January 2016 he was still participating in the education of residents and medical students, attending lectures, and presenting grand rounds.

Longtime faculty member Morris Shapiro, professor of emergency medicine and professor emeritus of surgery, is being remembered by the University community as a revered physician, colleague, mentor, and friend.

“Dr. Shapiro had a never-ending love of teaching and learning, and throughout his career and to the very end of his life, he was always curious and inquisitive,” says Michael Kamali, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “To those of us in medicine, he constantly reminded us that we are caring for people with particular diseases and conditions, not just treating a disease. His passion for medicine and his philosophy of compassionately caring for each individual continues to inform how we practice.”

Shapiro, who was the oldest active faculty member at the Medical Center, died February 25 at age 102. As recently as January he was still participating in the education of residents and medical students, attending lectures, and presenting grand rounds.

A native Rochesterian, Shapiro was born October 21, 1913. He received a full scholarship and attended the University as a member of the first class on River Campus. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1933, using his fourth year to earn a master’s degree in chemistry. He went on to attend medical school at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, graduating in 1938.

Shapiro began practicing medicine as a military surgeon in the United States Army during World War II, serving in Africa and Italy. He led the surgical team of the 16th Evacuation Hospital in Northern Africa and Italy.

It was during the war that Shapiro met his wife, Miriam, who was a nurse serving on a ship sent to support the Allied troops. When her ship was sunk off the Italian coast, she and the surviving nurses rowed ashore and went ahead and set up their hospital. After the war, Shapiro taught biology at the University and maintained scientific interests that included many travels.

Shapiro worked at Rochester General, Genesee, and Strong Memorial hospitals. He established Rochester’s first free clinic for the early detection of breast cancer. He served as a general surgeon in the Medical Center’s Department of Surgery until his “retirement” 30 years ago, when he began work in Emergency Medicine, practicing and most recently teaching.

Colleagues recall Shapiro as a gifted clinician who had extraordinary rapport with patients and equally impressive technical skill in the operating room.

“It made him a great teacher, with broad knowledge of medicine, surgery, and human nature,” says colleague and close friend Joel Pasternack, professor of clinical emergency medicine, who met Shapiro in 1979 when Pasternack was a resident in training.

“Morrie demonstrated all the characteristics we’re teaching the medical students today—not only medical knowledge and technical skill, but also respect for colleagues and other health care professionals and sensitivity to patient and family needs.”

His outlook on life and his work made him a role model for all who knew him. “You don’t get to be 100 being negative but by looking on the bright side, giving others the benefit of the doubt, and doing your best every day,” Pasternack says.

Shapiro served the community throughout his life. He provided support and leadership for numerous organizations, including the Jewish Home of Rochester, the Jewish Community Center, and the United Way of Rochester. He has an operating room named in his honor in Tel Aviv, Israel, and a conference room at the University.

In celebration of his 100th birthday, Shapiro created the endowed Miriam F. and Morris J. Shapiro M.D. Resident Growth and Education Award, given to residents who exemplify a passion for learning and a dedication to growth in the knowledge of the emergency department.

Predeceased by his wife, Miriam, in 2003, Shapiro is survived by his daughters, Donna and Barbara, and his grandchildren, Jessica, Marissa, and Kate.

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