Initially hired as the town nurse in 1971 — a part-time job that she would work on her days off from Lawrence General Hospital — Stepanian’s main responsibility was to check in on patients who had recently returned home from hospital stays.
For Stepanian, who first attended nursing school because her family didn’t have the money to send her to college, it was the start of a “side job” that developed into a passionate joint career. As the world changed, and so did the public health field.
Today, the role of a public health nurse is multi-faceted as she covers a wide range of responsibilities from running flu clinics to following up on reported communicable diseases. She is also responsible for holding blood pressure clinics, health teaching and education, running community wellness and public health prevention initiatives and public health emergency preparedness support.
Throughout the years, as Stepanian worked at Lawrence General and, later, Amesbury Hospital, she raised four boys and three girls, while never slowing down. In 1998, she joined other public health nurses in forming a statewide organization, the Mass. Association of Public Health Nurses.
She earned her degree in health care administration and then completed her master’s degree in nursing at the age of 70. She was 64 years old when she received her bachelor’s. In 2005, she was hired by St. Joseph’s College to teach an online class in public health. It sparked her interest to begin pursuing her doctorate.
“I feel like a living history book of nursing,” she said.
After Stepanian returned home from the West Coast, the festivities didn’t stop. The town held a luncheon celebrating Stepanian’s award on Tuesday, where she was given a certificate by the Board of Selectmen proclaiming Nov. 7 “Charlotte Eileen Stepanian Day” in Merrimac.
“There’s just not enough words, she’s remarkable,” Dillingham-Mailman said. “We just love her to pieces. She’s one of those people, you just shake your head. Her mind never stops. One of her sons just retired, and she’s still working.”