By Clare Hagerty
Georgia Barroso has a key chain collection from nearly one thousand destinations around the globe. From Cusco to Cambodia, from Singapore to Spain, it's a unique and colorful collection that her colleagues enthusiastically expand each time they travel. And it's just one example of how Barroso has managed to transcend her job to touch the lives of all those who have come to know and admire her.
For 16 years, Barroso has served as Administrative Assistant in the Department of Surgery's Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UW Medical Center. It's a hectic, sometimes chaotic charge that involves supporting and juggling schedules for some 60 medical professionals, ranging from heart and lung surgeons, chief residents and cardiac perfusionists (who operate the heart-lung machines during heart surgery), to nurse practitioners, physician assistants and patient care coordinators.
And she accomplishes this — and so much more — with a dedication, thoughtfulness and perpetual cheerfulness that her clients cherish.
"Georgia's effect on the work environment is remarkable," wrote Dr. Edward Verrier, chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery, in his nomination letter for a Distinguished Staff Award for Barroso. "She has formed such solid relationships with the various members of the extended cardiac surgery community that she can efficiently and thoughtfully figure out ways to prevent anyone's time from being wasted — almost like playing a three-dimensional game of chess."
Verrier gives the example of a recently recruited faculty member scheduled to begin work last October, "but Georgia had been in contact with him since the beginning of July and made sure that his introduction to the division went smoothly and that gaining operating privileges at three different hospitals was accomplished without difficulty."
Dr. David Rabkin, assistant professor of surgery, recounts Barroso's knack for "anticipating problems and solving them before they flourish." When Barroso noticed a recurring need in the division to get certain documents notarized, "Georgia solved the problem by becoming a notary public, and that makes all our lives just that much easier," he wrote in his nomination letter.
Barroso's compassion for patients and their families is another winning aspect of this "one-woman force of nature," says Shauna Andrus, mechanical assist device coordinator for the division. "She is also there for patients' family members with a kind word or a gentle reminder to one of the surgeons or nurse practitioners to respond to a patient's holiday card or return a family member's phone call."
Describing herself as a modern-day "Girl Friday," Barroso says it's her "natural mothering quality" — she has six daughters and six grandchildren — that drives her desire to take care of everyone. She'll make sure a cup of hot tea or favorite healthy snack awaits a surgeon after a long day in the OR, and she ensures birthdays and anniversaries are remembered with flowers. When Patient Care Coordinator Irina Kalinkovich fell ill, Barroso was there with hot chicken soup.
But all agree that what really distinguishes Barroso is her sense of community responsibility and her unwavering desire "to genuinely improve the lives of all those around her," says Dr. Craig Vocelka, chief of cardiac surgery perfusion. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Barroso's extraordinary commitment to public service.
Together with her daughter Mary-Katherine, a student in the Executive Master of Health Administration program at UW, Barroso has led efforts for the Toys for Tots campaign for 16 years, raising thousands of dollars and hundreds of toys for children in need during the holidays. She has worked for Blanket the Homeless, and has represented the UW Medical Center at Mie University School of Medicine in Japan as a member of an international panel promoting medical student exchange programs. And each year Barroso organizes the American Heart Walk, when "she gently persuades many of us to become engaged in the philanthropy and exercise that activity provides," says Andrus.
To top it off, Barroso keeps an annual holiday tradition of making nearly one thousand hand-crafted holiday gifts, which she distributes to "virtually everyone you could possibly imagine within the hospital community," Vocelka says, "from the people who work at the cafeteria, to members of the after-hours clean-up crew, to nurses on the wards — she forgets no one."
Barroso says she is both appreciative and overwhelmed by her receipt of this year's Distinguished Staff Award.
"If I can help the surgeons' days go a little bit smoother, then they can really shine at what they do — and when they shine, I shine," she says with a smile.