Guardian of the Discipline
Ruth McCorkle was born in Johnson City, TN. Peggy Chinn (personal communication, October 12, 2019) reminded me that Martha E. Rogers also was born in Johnson City, TN. Ruth earned a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in medical-surgical nursing from the University of Iowa, and a PhD degree in mass communication, also from the University of Iowa. Ruth was a distinguished faculty member in the Schools of Nursing at the University of Washington, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. Prior to her retirement, Ruth was Director of Psychosocial Oncology at the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. At the time of her death, she was the Florence Schorske Wald Professor Emerita of Nursing (this endowed chair, of which Ruth was the inaugural holder, was given by Rick Levin (R. Wittenmore, personal communication, October 15, 2019)) and Professor Emerita of Medicine and Public Health at Yale University. Ruth earned master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Iowa. Robin Wittemore (personal communication, October 15, 2019), a colleague of Ruth’s at Yale School of Nursing, added that Ruth was “recruited to Yale to be the director of the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) program . . . [and] [s]he directed the Center for Excellence in Chronic Illness Care.
Ruth served in the United States Air Force Nurse Corps, caring for Vietnam War wounded and dying military personnel, which greatly influenced her commitment to caring for acutely ill persons, with a special focus on psychosocial experiences of persons living with and dying from cancer. Subsequently, she studied at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London and later cofounded the Hospice of Seattle and the Northwest Regional Oncology Society.
Ruth “was a pioneer and an international leader in cancer nursing, education, and cancer control research conducting landmark research on the psychosocial ramifications of cancer” (Villarruel, 2019). Her research included development and psychometric testing of the widely used Symptom Distress Scale (SDS) and the Enforced Social Dependency Scale. Mark Lazenby (personal communication, October 6, 2019), a faculty colleague of Ruth’s at Yale School of Nursing, added that the the SDS was the first scale that not only assessed whether a patient experienced a symptom but also measured the distress the patient associated with the symptom.
Ruth served as the Principal Investigator for seven clinical trials, four cancer research education projects (R25s) and, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, as the Program Director for a T32 Pre- and Post-Doctoral Training grant. I had the honor of serving as Co-Program Director of the T32 for several years, which enabled me to observe the intensity and effectiveness of Ruth’s superb mentorship of the next generation of nursologist scholars.
Ruth’s work was published in many healthcare journals, books, and book chapters. She was a generous author, providing many opportunities for co-authorship of journal articles and authorship of chapters in books she edited for her students and faculty colleagues.
Ruth championed a curriculum for Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist practice, with an emphasis on theory-guided evidence-based practice. While at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Ruth insisted on retaining a master’s degree program course focused on nursology conceptual models and theories at a time when almost all other advance practice nursing programs at the school and across the nation eliminated that course as a required part of their respective curricula.
Ruth was a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) and of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS). Among her many other honors are her 1990 election to the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine), being named in 1993 as Nurse Scientist of the Year by the Council of Nurse Researchers, receiving the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yale Cancer Center, and being named a 2018 Living Legend by the AAN. Ruth also received “the Bernard Fox Award from the International Psycho-Oncology Society and the Jimmie C. Holland Award from the APOS, both societies’ highest awards for contributions to the field . . . [and] she was named to the [International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame in 2014 by] Sigma Theta Tau International” (R. Wittemore, personal communication, October 15, 2019).
“In addition to her extraordinary scientific contributions to health care in the field of cancer care, [Ruth] was also well-known for humanizing the face of cancer care. For those of us who knew her here at [the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing], we also remember well her fun-loving spirit as she was at the forefront of special events and activities – donning costumes at Halloween, decorating her office, and being first in line to sign up for the Penn Nursing softball team.” (Villarruel, 2019). In addition, “Ruth bought yellow daffodils [every March] for every member of the staff [and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing] and personally delivered them as part of [an American Cancer Society] fundraiser (Franco, 2019). Robin Wittemore (personal communication, October 15, 2019) added that Ruth “brought her fun-loving spirit to [Yale School of Nursing,] encouraging a yearly Halloween costume event.”
Portions of this blog were adapted from Ruth McCorkle’s obituary, published in The New Haven Register on Aug. 19, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nhregister/obituary.aspx?pid=193674212
Additional information was adapted from “Honoring Dr. Ruth McCorkle: Nurse pioneer in hospice, palliative care, and oncology.” Retrieved from https://nursing.yale.edu/news/honoring-dr-ruth-mccorkle-nurse-pioneer-hospice-palliative-care-and-oncology
Franco, A. M. (2019, August 19). Email message. University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
Villarruel, A. M. (2019, August 19). Email message from the Dean, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.