Ruth McCorkle Leaves Legacy of Innovation, Advancement in Oncology Nursing
Courtesy of Yale School of Medicine

ONS member Ruth McCorkle, PhD, RN, FAPOS, FAAN, had a storied, trailblazing career in oncology nursing, leading the way to advance nursing research, patient-centered care, and educational excellence. McCorkle passed away on August 17, 2019, surrounded by her close family, leaving behind an indelible legacy to the oncology nursing profession.        

As one of the forebearers for oncology nursing research in symptom management, palliative care, and hospice care for patients with cancer, McCorkle paved the way for innovative, patient-centered interventions in institutions throughout the country. In a career that spanned more than 45 years, McCorkle’s contributions to evidence-based practice have changed the way that nurses care for patients with cancer. Among her many accomplishments, McCorkle was key in developing the Symptom Distress Scale, an essential tool in today’s symptom assessment and management practice across every medical discipline.

“So many of us who have known Ruth personally for decades have benefited from her wisdom, enthusiasm, and determination to advance our specialty and build the science of quality cancer care,” Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN, FAAN, ONS chief executive officer, said. “Ruth’s contributions to palliative care, symptom management, and end-of-life care led to significant advancements in clinical practice, improving the way we treat and care for patients with cancer. Her continued commitment to the excellence of the oncology nursing profession, including her substantial work with ONS, has been invaluable to moving the profession forward. She leaves behind a tremendous legacy and had a lasting impact on her friends, coworkers, students, mentees, and the countless patients she’s touched.”

McCorkle’s career earned her accolades throughout the oncology community. Most recently, in January 2018, McCorkle was the first nurse to receive the Yale Cancer Center Lifetime Achievement award. In August that year, she was named an American Academy of Nursing (AAN) Living Legend. The Living Legend designation is AAN’s highest honor. In 2013, ONS awarded McCorkle the Lifetime Achievement Award for her accomplishments in oncology nursing, and she had previously received ONS’s Distinguished Researcher Award in 1994. She was also named a Friend of the Foundation as a member of the distinguished nurse researcher group through the Oncology Nursing Foundation in 2012.

A charter ONS member, McCorkle was integral in helping to define the Society’s focus. She was the first chair of the ONS Research Committee in 1979 and previously served as a director-at-large on the ONS Board of Directors from 1983–1985. She also played a central role in the formation of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. McCorkle worked with the Advanced Practice Nursing Special Interest Group, contributed to grant reviews for the Oncology Nursing Foundation, and published articles in ONS’s Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing and Oncology Nursing Forum scholarly journals, serving on the latter’s editorial board. She was also key to developing ONS chapters, transforming the former Regional Oncology Nursing Society into what is now the Puget Sound Chapter.

“I was saddened to learn that Dr. Ruth McCorkle passed away this weekend. A proud veteran, Dr. McCorkle was a pioneer of oncology nursing research and psychosocial oncology,” ONS member and fellow nurse researcher Christopher Friese, PHD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, said on Twitter. “Ruth developed and tested the Symptom Distress Scale in the 1970s, solidifying her role as an early advocate of patient-reported outcomes. She tested several innovative care models for patients with cancer.”

McCorkle’s literary contributions to oncology were vast. As a prolific researcher and author, she published extensively in journals beyond ONS’s, including Psycho-OncologyJournal of Thoracic Oncology, and Journal of Cancer Survivorship, among many others. She was also the author of several books, including Pocket Companion for Cancer Nursing and Safe Passage: A Global Spiritual Sourcebook for Care at the End of Life.

A memorial service is being planned for fall 2019 at Yale’s Battell Chapel in New Haven, CT. McCorkle’s obituary and memorial information can be found online.