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Retiring Port Jervis doctor cares about generations of patients

A heartfelt letter sent to each of his patients in February of this year confirmed Dr. Gopal Shah’s planned retirement this month. The letter expressed the decades-long Port Jervis physician’s gratitude for 37-years of ‘love, trust and appreciation and support’ shown to him as he cared for generations of patients in the Tri-State community.

As a family practice internist for nearly 40-years, Shah admits looking forward to the flexibility and free time retirement may bring – but says he still loves every day spent caring for his patients.

“The hardest part of retiring is leaving my patients,” said Shah, who worries most that he may be leaving at a bad time.  “I feel that this community – my community – is at a disadvantage with a lack of doctors, and many people who are unable to travel.  I’ve had many discussions with the hospital about what can be done to encourage more doctors to locate here.”

Born on September 29, 1953 in the small town of Kaladia, India, population then about 500, Shah went to school through fourth grade in his hometown. His family then moved to a community about the size of Port Jervis, which is where he graduated from high school. He then went on to complete college and medical school in India.

It was likely no surprise to those who knew him that the young medical student excelled as number one in his class over his last three years of medical school. It had always been his goal to become a doctor.

In 1980, Shah moved to the United States where he completed his residency from 1981 to 1984.  He began his medical career as an ophthalmologist, treating eye-related problems and performing such things as cataract and glaucoma surgeries. But even as he was completing his training in this specialty, he had started feeling nervous that he was losing some of his knowledge in overall medicine while only treating a small part of the body, the eyes. 

“I felt I wasn’t helping the heart, lungs, and other parts of the body,” Shah recalled thinking. 

He chose to turn to internal medicine as his specialty.

Asked about choosing Port Jervis for his practice location, Shah reflected on similarities in his own small-town upbringing.  He recalled enjoying the freedom to walk to the homes of uncles, aunts, and neighbors as a boy, with no worries or cares.  He remembers growing up in a society that took care of children and each other.

“It was fantastic.  I had such a good life growing up.  I have only good memories,” he said.

He and his wife saw Port Jervis as that type of good place, as well. 

Shah also recalls always knowing what he wanted to do.

“We are family of many doctors, and everyone in my family knew I wanted to be a doctor,” Shah said. “I wanted to help people.”

He choked up as he recalled being a young teen and seeing his mother, an asthmatic, suffer through severe asthma attacks.  Without access to inhalers, nebulizers, and other treatments available today, he recalls sitting up at night and trying to help his mom during her worst attacks, and always wanting to do more.  

Once he was established in the United States, he was able to steer his mother to appropriate asthma treatments and management, and she had medicines and equipment to help during the remainder of her life. She passed away at 90, just five weeks ago.    

Having enjoyed his own childhood years, Shah and his wife Rekha Shah saw Port Jervis as a good place to work while raising their children. As a young doctor, Shah opened his first office across from Sunnyside Hospital, with his wife assisting part time in the office.  At times, their children would come to the office with them.  The office later relocated to 33 Delaware Street where both continued to work together over the next decades.

“My wife and I wanted everyone in our office to know our patients, and to care about them, and they did,” Shah said.  “It comes from here, the heart.”

While he admits medicine is not an easy field, he encourages those with an interest to pursue this field.

“It is a way to help many people, which is very important in life,” he said. 

The dozens of doctors in his family include his own son, who is a physician, and his daughter, who holds a PhD. 

In his retirement, Shah plans to spend more time with his family, including his two grandchildren.  He hopes to improve his harmonium musical skills by taking lessons, exercise more, practice yoga more consistently, and travel – including to parts of India and other places that he has never explored.

He also hopes to remain involved in the Port Jervis community in other ways once he settles into retirement.

Shah shared a heartfelt message for his patients, colleagues, and community as his last day in practice (April 26, 2024) approached.

“I truly, truly want to thank them for their support over all of these years,” Shah said.  “I wish you all good health and happiness.”

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