Dr. Martha Pitel, professor emerita and former chair of nursing education at Northwestern University, died on April 19, 2014 after an extended period of failing health. Prior to the onset of her lllness seven years ago, she led a life of intense professional energy and passion, as well as excitement about sports, politics, music, theatre, travel, and even casino cruising. Dr.Pitel spent her career at the cutting edge of leadership in nursing education. As one example, during a nursing symposium, she presented a paper at the Ninth Nursing Research Conference in 1973 San Antonio, Texas, that forcefully argued that evidence-based research and theory development must be the primary educational foundation for the professional practice of nursing. Dr. Pitel continued to advocate this foundation along with many supporting factors. She pursued and acquired research funding for the training and development of nurses to pursue research careers for the duration of her professional life. Her long history of leadership within the nursing profession has left a legacy that many contemporary nurses know well. She inspired many by her example, and mentored those to complete doctoral studies, to develop their own research, and to become experts in teaching other nurses. She counseled students to discard the "nursing cap mentality," in favor of engaging theoretically complex research questions. She demanded much of both students and faculty, but never less than she demanded of herself. Martha Pitel was born on January 26, 1921, in Binghamton, New York. Her parents were John and Mary Pitel, and she grew up with an older sister, Ella, and a brother, Johnny, who died of Type 1 diabetes when he was 13. She began her nursing career by graduating from Charles Wilson Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Johnson City, New York, in 1942. She completed basic training as a nurse in the U.S. Army in 1944 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. She received bachelor and master's degrees in nursing from Case Western Reserve University. In 1954, she earned a doctorate in anatomy and physiology from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Pitel then taught nursing at Syracuse University, and Yale University School of Nursing and Medicine. In 1958-59, she studied fetal endocrinology at the Université de Paris. During her year in France, she bought a Renault and traveled alone all over Europe. She also loaded it on the ship to bring back to the United States. She was a woman way ahead of her time. Following her year abroad, she taught nursing at the University of Rochester (New York) School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 1964, Dr. Pitel was awarded a grant from the American Nurses Foundation to study insulin absorption. These research funds were transferred from the University of Rochester to the University of Kansas. At this time she accepted the position of Chairman of the Department of Nursing at the University of Kansas where she was one of only two faculty members with doctoral degrees. She established the graduate program in nursing at the University of Kansas, an important achievement at a time when both the public and academia still perceived nursing as a vocational rather than a professional career choice. From 1971 to 1974 she assumed the position of Director of The American Nurses' Foundation in New York, New York. Dr. Pitel also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Case Western University in 1971 and from the University of Minnesota in 1972. In 1974, Dr. Pitel was appointed professor of nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she continued teaching research until 1977. Many students in her research class at the University of Illinois credit this experience as giving impetus and direction to their own later research careers. During this time she was inducted into the Alpha Lambda Chapter (Chapter at the University of Illinois College of Nursing) of Sigma Theta Tau. In 1978, Dr. Pitel was appointed chair of nursing education at Northwestern University. There, her mission was to develop and implement a baccalaureate program in nursing. In the 1970s and 1980s she traveled to Russia, Japan, Brazil, and Egypt in order to teach nurses there, also becoming a national consultant for the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps. She retired from Northwestern in 1986, later serving as professor emerita. Following retirement, Dr. Pitel spent innumerable hours recording anatomy and physiology textbooks onto tape for use by blind students, completing 129 cassettes in this project. She continued to travel and loved to go to casinos.Dr. Martha Pitel leaves no living family members, but will be well remembered by those who knew her. Her archives and papers have been donated to the Midwest Nursing History Resource Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Nursing. A memorial service honoring Dr. Pitel will take place at the College of Nursing, University of Illinois-Chicago on October 21st, 2014 at 2 pm. The memorial will be held in the Events Center on the 3rd floor and the address is 845 S. Damen, Chicago, Illinois.
Published in Chicago Tribune from Aug. 16 to Oct. 5, 2014.