Las Vegas – Broadcasting icon Larry King joined two of the forerunners of the nurse practitioner (NP) profession at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) 2013 National Conference to discuss NP history, and the growing importance of NPs in the changing American healthcare climate.

In his trademark conversational style, King spoke with Loretta Ford, PNP, FAAN, and Jan Towers, PhD, NP-C, about their experiences and hardships as pioneers of the NP community.

“The early years were very stressful,” Ford said when asked by King about what creating the NP role was like in the 1960s. “In general, people in the medical establishment who had the power were against it because they thought we were creating a mini-doctor or physician assistant.”

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Amidst the social upheaval of the ‘60s, NPs grew out of a frustration with existing roles, as many wanted to expand their breadth in healthcare.

“[One of the turning points] was with Medicare reimbursement,” Towers said. “That’s when organized medicine started playing hardball with us.”

While organizations were at first reluctant to legitimize the NP role, NPs now have title recognition in every state.  However, Towers stressed that there’s still much that needs to be done in regards to modernizing prescribing laws in order for NPs to have more authority.

“The main resistance we have right now is from organized medicine,” she added. “We’re doing a good job and we’re pretty effective, so we’re making people [who are concerned about their job security] worried when we start stepping onto their turf.”

Despite some the lingering stigma and forthcoming challenges, Ford and Towers are hopeful about what the future has to offer.

“You can do just about everything a doctor does?” King asked.

“Well, not brain surgery,” Ford replied.

“If we wanted to, we could,” Towers added, drawing chuckles from the audience. She added that healthcare reform is the next pivotal turning point for the NP profession.

In closing, Ford emphasized the importance of the power of each individual nurse in driving the NP profession forward.

“We have advanced the profession tremendously, and we’ve done it through individual self-discovery and enthusiasm. In that sense, the changes that occur in each of us individually have led to changes for the whole profession.”