Carol P. Germain, 86, of May’s Landing, a former educator and innovative researcher at the Nursing School of the University of Pennsylvania, died Friday, May 10, of advanced age at Brandywine Living at Voorhees.

Dr. Germain had long battled a brittle-bone disease that made her frail, but her condition worsened after the death of her husband, Charles, last March, said the couple’s son, Charles P. “Chip” Germain.

“She was ready to go,” her son said. “You could say she died of a broken heart.”

Dr. Germain joined the Penn faculty in 1978 following previous faculty appointments at St. John’s University and Rutgers University. Best known as a researcher, she is credited with the first institutional ethnography of nursing practice entitled, The Cancer Unit: An Ethnography.

She conducted similar studies on sheltering abused women, diabetes self-management, and women’s experiences with hormone-replacement therapy.

Ethnography is a method in which a researcher gathers data within the natural setting of a group of subjects. No attempt is made to control variables. The purpose is to understand what is happening within the group and what conclusions can be drawn.

“She embedded herself on a ward at a hospital for weeks and months at a time, just watching what the nurses were doing,” said Patricia D’Antonio, her colleague, friend, and a historian at Penn’s Nursing School. “And then, with her deep analytical skills, she imbued [the experience] with a meaning the nurses didn’t even realize [was there.]”

Dr. Carol P. Germain elevated nursing through her research, a colleague said.
Courtesy of the Germain Family
Dr. Carol P. Germain elevated nursing through her research, a colleague said.

“She elevated nursing, and gave it a vivid and significant meaning,” D’Antonio said. “It came at a particular moment in time when nurses were hungry for understanding their practice in a more complicated way.”

Because of Dr. Germain’s work, nurses were able to see, for instance, that when working with patients and families, not only the diagnosis was important; patients and families also had to live with the ongoing implications of the disease. Nursing was more than just tasks.

“Carol’s contribution was applying known methods to a new topic to come up with startling analyses, and then teaching her students to ask different kinds of questions,” D’Antonio said.

At Penn, Dr. Germain taught doctoral seminars in her research techniques. She also taught clinical nursing and theory at the undergraduate and master’s levels.

She wrote widely and was a consultant and conference lecturer. She received many accolades such as election to membership in Sigma Theta Tau International, a nursing honor society.

She retired from Penn in 2008 and became visiting professor and interim chair of the nursing department at Rutgers University, Camden. She stopped working five years ago.

Born in Jersey City, she was raised in Metuchen and lived there until marrying in 1958. The Germains moved to Medford in 1984 and May’s Landing in 2003.

The couple had a longtime interest in the Navajo and Hopi Native American tribes in Tuba City, Ariz., where Dr. Germain’s sister, Catherine Hanley, was deeply involved in delivering health services.

“Mom and Dad would go out there and visit and bring me,” their son said. “They gave of their time, money, professional skills, and love for God, and they asked for nothing.”

Dr. Germain received a diploma in nursing from St. Clare’s School of Nursing in New York; a bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University; a master’s from St. John’s University; and a doctorate from Rutgers University.

When not involved in nursing, she enjoyed following college basketball and attending Phillies games.

In addition to her son and sister, she is survived by a grandson and stepgranddaughter. Another sister died earlier.

Services were Friday, May 17.

Donations may be made to St. John of God Community Services, 1145 Delsea Dr., Westville, N.J. 08093.