It’s been five decades since Dr. Loretta Ford of the University of Colorado College of Nursing and Henry Silver of the CU School of Medicine took a $7,000 grant and created the world’s first nurse practitioner education program here. Last Friday, October 2, 2015, CU College of Nursing honored the program’s founders at their 50th anniversary celebration of nurse practitioners, with Loretta Ford in attendance.  

Nurse practitioner seminar class in 1966
This is a photo of a nurse practitioner seminar class in 1966. Loretta Ford, EdD, FAAN, co-founder of the NP program, is seated second from the far right.

In 1965, the new specialty was developed to allow nurses to diagnose and treat patients and helped fill the gaps left by a shortage of doctors in many places, especially rural areas. Now, as the nurse practitioner specialty celebrates its 50th anniversary, there are more than 192,000 of them serving communities urban and rural, large and small and carrying the legacy of innovation that built the movement here half a century ago.

“It was a revolutionary idea at the time of its inception,” said Sarah Thompson, PhD RN, dean of the CU College of Nursing. “The nurse practitioner program fulfilled a critical need by empowering nurses with kind of education and hands-on experience required to address complex and diverse community health care issues.”

Nationwide there is a shortage of nurses, particularly advanced practice professionals able to help provide primary care in place of physicians. By 2025, the number of nurse practitioners is expected to reach 244,000.

 “CU College of Nursing has a record of leadership in the nursing field, and an ongoing commitment to innovation and research that has changed the landscape of the nursing field,” said Donald Elliman, Chancellor for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “Fifty years have passed since Drs. Loretta Ford and Henry Silver helped found the pediatric and school nurse practitioner programs, leaving a lasting legacy to inspire and empower nurses to address complex and diverse community health care issues.”

To address physician shortages, 21 states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia, allow nurse practitioners to practice without a doctor’s oversight if they have a master’s degree or better.

“Envisioned by Drs. Ford and Silver, the nurse practitioner program was a monumental step to reform medical education,” said Distinguished Professor Richard Krugman, MD, former CU School of Medicine dean. “The principle of taking someone who knows what they want to do in health care, then giving them a curriculum that prepares them to do it turns out to be revolutionary.”

Nurse practitioners are certified to assess, diagnose, and manage patient problems, order tests, and prescribe medications. In an increasingly complex health care industry, advanced practice they are playing a vital role in delivering cost-effective care and increased access for patients and their families – especially low-income individuals.

If you are interested in speaking to Dean Thompson about the future of the nurse practitioner program and how they are responding to changes in modern health care, please contact Ryann Nickerson at 720-726-0378.

About the College of Nursing at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus: Founded in 1898, the CU College of Nursing offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral (DNP and PHD) programs to more than 900 students in two locations and online. Our master’s programs and online graduate programs are ranked nationally by U.S. News & World Report. New programs include a certificate in palliative care, and a DNP/MPH interdisciplinary dual degree and new master’s specialties in acute care and military and veterans’ health. Learn more about the college at www.nursing.ucdenver.edu.