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The University of Washington School of Nursing remembers the life of Jeanne Quint Benoliel

February 8, 2012

By Ashley Wiggin, Communications and Marketing Officer, 206-221-2456


Jeanne Quint Benoliel, Emeritus Professor, a pioneer in the field of nursing research and the study of death and dying, passed away on January 23, 2012 at the age of 92.  Her contributions to nursing science and research, the education of hundreds of students, and the founding of the School of Nursing’s PhD program and a graduate program in end-of-life care were just a few of her many achievements in her 20 years as a faculty member the School of Nursing. Her sharp sense of humor, bold personality and big earrings were characteristics of a nursing leader whose contributions will be remembered by not only her students, faculty colleagues and friends, but by the field of nursing as a whole.

Benoliel championed the role of the nurse scientist, and is recognized as one of the first nurses to research and study death and dying. Her work addressed the needs of entire families in confronting death and dying, emphasizing the role of the family in caring for loved ones. In addition, her research studies of terminal cancer patients and their interactions with doctors and nurses are credited with transforming the education of health care providers, again emphasizing the role of the family in providing end of life care.

Benoliel is remembered for a pioneering graduate program at the School of Nursing called Transition Services, which she led alongside Dr. Ruth McCorkle for 11 years. This was a two year program to train nurses for leadership in community based care for advanced cancer patients and their families. It emphasized the importance of understanding social and political context, of working as part of a health care team, using effective communication and providing care for patients and families based on their needs.

"Her impact has been transformative, end-of-life care as we know it today is infused with her principles, rights of the individual patient, recognizing and giving voice to family members, and the understanding that personal goals are paramount in making life decisions," McCorkle said. "Her legacy is her body of work, she has some remarkable, life-altering papers. For those of us privileged to work alongside her, she touched our hearts and souls. Her strive for excellence was contagious. Her work ethic was unparallel. For me personally, she has been my beacon or touchstone. I have tried to build on her teachings so that those that I teach will continue our work."

Benoliel Nurse uniformBenoliel Nurse uniformSeveral of her former students noted the impact of an early course she taught on death and dying, part of the beginning of a national movement towards open discussions on death, mortality and dealing with loss. Barbara McGrath, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing’s Psychosocial and Community Health Department, was one of her students in the Transition Services Graduate Program, and later became a close friend to Benoliel.

“Her class on death and dying was infamous,” she said.  “The first day she announced that we cannot help others deal with their impending deaths until we have examined our own feelings.  We called it the “crying class”—tears flowed, we often were angry with her for pushing so hard, but insights also emerged, and none of us came out of that class unchanged (or unscathed).”

Benoliel in her nursing uniform

Marilynn Dodd, emeritus faculty member at University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing, recalled her experience in the classroom with Jeanne, noting that her candid discussions of death were a “gift” to her students.

“The experiences in that seminar were only a part of the gift of Jeanne as a teacher,” she said. “The other gift was quite existential-- she challenged us to come to terms with our own mortality, and its concomitant sense of vulnerability. Furthermore, it was Jeanne’s contention that in order to provide care for patients and their families, nurses also needed to be cared for.  She asked, “how can we expect nurses to care for others, if nurses do not feel cared for themselves?””

Benoliel’s role in the faculty was equally influential. A faculty member in the school for over 20 years, she was named the first Elizabeth Sterling Soule Professor in the School of Nursing in 1987. Dean Emeritus Sue Hegyvary recalls her leadership and impact on the field of nursing.

"I had the pleasure and privilege of naming the first Elizabeth Sterling Soule Professor of Nursing,” said Hegyvary. “Little discussion was necessary to reach the conclusion that Professor Jeanne Quint Benoliel was the perfect person for that professorship. Her many years of service in the School, her outstanding research, and her concern for and focus on community health and psychosocial nursing were cited by many of her colleagues as her continuation of the high standards begun by Dean Soule. Professor Benoliel's many contributions in the School, as well as in local and national communities, continued for her entire career."

Emeritus Professor Oliver Osborne notes her impact to the faculty and how she pushed others to be their best.

“I always considered her a very smart, caring, but tough-minded and direct individual; not given to suffer fools easily,” he said. “Therefore, when dealing with her I always found myself challenged to be at my intellectual best. Practically all our meetings, both formal and informal, had to do with the progress of the school, our colleagues, and our students. What little time I had to interact with her was always productive and a pleasure; no aspect of our collaborations was ever a mystification.”

Marge Batey, also an Emertius Professor, shared an office suite with Benoliel for 20 years, but remembers her most for their lasting friendship, which included annual birthday lunches.

“Jeanne was a wonderful friend and a great person,” said Batey. “But, her critical thinking and analytical abilities were also very impactful to the school and leave a legacy.”

Beginning in 1964, School of Nursing leaders obtained a grant to institute a nurse researcher program, which was one of the first of its kind nationally. Benoliel was one of a handful of faculty to assist in creating the School of Nursing’s PhD program in 1977.  In her own words, Benoliel notes in a book chapter for Building a Legacy: Voices of Oncology Nurses that “In 1961, it was not uncommon to hear physicians say, “Whoever heard of a nurse doing research?”[1]

Benoliel worked closely with her PhD students, embracing the chance to push her students and create strong nurse researchers to lead nursing science into the future. Her students remember her as a “mother” to them, helping to guide and shape them into future leaders.

Barbara Germino, one of Jeanne’s first PhD students, studied family member’s concerns after cancer diagnosis. Currently a faculty member at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Germino credits Benoliel with helping to change her perspective on death and dying.

“Of the many things I learned from Jeanne, the greatest lessons changed my personal and professional life in significant ways,” said Germino. “I learned to challenge my own and others' thinking.  As a doctoral student, I began to question everything I thought I knew! She helped me learn that the issues that made me most uncomfortable were actually the ones I had to be courageous and adventurous enough to deal with, especially those around the transitions of living with serious illness and facing the process of dying. Look differently, look more deeply, assume nothing, take the other's perspective and have the courage to ask even the most difficult questions!" 

Cynthia Dougherty, Professor in the department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, asked Benoliel to Benoliel and DoughertyBenoliel and Doughertybecome her postdoctoral mentor in 1990, the same year that Benoliel retired from the UW faculty and took a visiting professorship at Rutgers University. 

“Jeanne was everything that you want in a mentor:  support, help, strength, enthusiasm, someone who could tell you when you were off key, but more than anything, somebody who cared deeply about the work and about me as a person,” said Dougherty.

Dougherty and Benoliel in 2007

While Benoliel’s impact on nursing science and student education were immense, she was also known for her sharp wit, flamboyant earrings and characteristic irreverent humor.

Peg Heitkemper, Professor and Chair of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems recalls Benoliel’s sense of humor from her perspective as a Junior Faculty member in the school.

“One year at the Western Institute of Nursing conference, Universities put on skits to compete with each other,” said Heitkemper. “Jeanne put together this wild outfit of bright colored clothes and a hat. The best part was a pink boa. To a junior faculty member from afar she seemed so serious and brilliant. But to see her sense of humor in action was something to behold. Everyone knew of Jeanne’s work related to transitions and nursing care so I believe it was her performance that won the day for Washington.”

McGrath recalls an end of the year student tradition where students would put on a skit imitating the faculty.

“Jeanne was almost too easy,” she said. “All you had to do was to wear a very colorful blouse, buy a pair of oversized flamboyant earrings, and look piercingly at someone and say things like, “well, if you are going to have that opinion, you better have a good justification for it.” 

Outside of her many contributions to the UW School of Nursing, Benoliel is celebrated by colleagues nationally and internationally. Among many other honors, Benoliel was named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing for her contributions to the field of cancer nursing, and awarded a Research Award from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in recognition of her four decades of research in end-of-life care. In 2002, Benoliel received the Oncology Nursing Society Lifetime Achievement Award and an honorary doctorate from Yale. Benoliel yale doctorateBenoliel yale doctorate

She also received honorary doctorates from the University of San Diego, the University of Pennsylvania, and from Yale University. She authored six books, among them The Nurse and the Dying Patient, Death Education for the Health Professional, and three volumes of the Annual Review of Nursing Research. She has also produced hundreds of articles, presentations and speeches and was the first nurse to serve as chair of the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement.

Benoliel receives honorary doctorate from Yale, 2002

In Benoliel’s early life, she noted that she was not one who “always wanted to be a nurse,”[2] but made the decision during her last year of high school. After graduating from nursing school in 1941, she worked as a staff nurse in the San Diego County Hospital and later served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1943-1946, serving mainly in the South Pacific, a time she recalled proudly in interviews and discussions. She received a MS from UCLA in 1955, and joined their faculty shortly after until 1959. She entered a research training program for nurses at UCLA from 1959-1961. In 1962, she, along with the famed sociologists Anselm Strauss and Barney Glasser, conducted ground breaking research at the University of California San Francisco studying communication with dying patients and hospital personnel. During this time, she earned her PhD at UCSF. In 1970, she married Bob Benoliel and his children quickly became her own, as she had none herself. She and Bob, who passed away in 1999, found great joy in traveling the world, and spending time with family and ever growing numbers of grandchildren. 

In 1992, Benoliel established the School of Nursing's first Endowed Fellowship, providing financial assistance to doctoral-level students in nursing who are studying in areas of end-of-life transitions and impact of life-threatening illnesses. Donations in her memory may be made to the Jeanne Q. Benoliel Endowed Fellowship Fund. Donate online at: by searching under "Nursing" for the Jeanne Q. Benoliel Endowed Fellowship Fund or checks may be sent to UW School of Nursing Advancement, Box 357260, Seattle, WA 98195. Make checks payable to "UW School of Nursing", noting the Jeanne Benoliel Fellowship Fund.

You can read her full obituary submitted by her family to the Seattle Times here.

[1] Nevidjon, Brenda. Building a Legacy: Voices of Oncology Nurses. Jones and Bartlett Learning, c. 1995, p. 50

[2] Nevidjon, Brenda. Building a Legacy: Voices of Oncology Nurses. Jones and Bartlett Learning, c. 1995, p. 47