Long before the COVID-19 pandemic and modern political climate, Loretta C. Ford, EdD, RN, PNP, NP-C, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP — cofounder of the nurse practitioner (NP) profession — navigated through polio and influenza epidemics, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. Dr Ford shared her insight on providing quality care to patients in challenging moments with the Clinical Advisor.

Dr Ford, who celebrated her 100th birthday in December 2020, cofounded the first NP program in the United States in 1965 with Dr Henry Silver at the University of Colorado.This program emphasized illness prevention and health promotion, giving public health nurses new ways to contribute to patient outcomes. Since then, Dr Ford has been influential in graduate-level nursing education.

Dr Ford recently received the Surgeon General’s Medallion: the highest honor granted by the United States Public Health Service. The Surgeon General awards this medallion to individuals who have made exceptional achievements in public health and medicine. In celebration of Dr Ford’s accomplishments and contributions to the profession, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) established the Loretta Ford Centennial Scholarship fund.1

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Nursing Then

Technology, professional norms, and models of delivering care have changed significantly since Dr Ford started practicing. Early in her career, she would adapt her behavior according to society’s expectations for a nurse at the time.

“If we were in the room with physicians, (nurses) didn’t dare say ‘The patient is hemorrhaging.’ We would say ‘The patient is bleeding, I think.’” Dr Ford explained that although they feigned hesitancy when more senior clinicians were in earshot, nurses were sometimes left alone to care for patients throughout the night. This taught Dr Ford and her fellow nurses how to care for patients independently. “Who do you think was making decisions at 3:00 AM?” She said.

Dr Ford noted that the general public deeply trusted nurses in the mid-20th century. She remembers delivering supplies to homes in an unfamiliar neighborhood during World War II while wearing her nurse’s uniform, when 2 men saw her arrive and offered to escort her to her destination.

Though she was young and alone, Dr Ford was not frightened when the men said “Nurse, we will show you where to go.” Since nurses were so highly regarded, she knew that the men were offering to help out of respect for her profession. “They didn’t recognize me personally… but I expected them to do that. I felt comfortable,” she said.

Nursing Now

Dr Ford believes that the same emphasis on health promotion and illness prevention instilled in public health nurses who were a part of the first NP program will serve NPs well on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic today.

The best outcomes are made possible by patients, Dr. Ford said. Clinicians may lend a guiding hand, but it is ultimately up to patients to maintain their own well-being. Dr Ford is puzzled by the word “provider,” as she feels it contradicts the philosophy of patients, not clinicians, having control over patients’ health.

“You have to employ health strategies to get [the patient] to realize that they know more about their bodies than you or any other professional,” Dr Ford said. “You know how [your body] acts. You know what it needs. Your body is your temple, so to speak, and you have to take care of it. [Clinicians] can discuss risks and benefits, but patients have to make decisions for themselves.”

Nursing in the Future

Dr Ford envisions community-based approaches to health care gaining popularity in the future. “Hospitals are going to be for very acute care; we aren’t going to need all of these hospitals,” she predicts. “But, we could use community centers and home care, and we are learning a lot with virtual visits and telehealth.”

Wearable technology also may play a role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and educating patients, according to Dr Ford. She anticipates that new technology will assist learning, resource gathering, and goal-setting for both patients and clinicians.

Dr Ford has been described as a “titan of American health care” and “active champion for the NP community” by the AANP. The Clinical Advisor team thanks Dr Ford for her contributions to nursing, public health, and patients.


AANP Announces Loretta Ford Centennial Scholarships Honoring Co-founder of Nurse Practitioner (NP) Role on Her 100th Birthday [press release]. Austin, TX: American Association of Nurse Practitioners; December, 28, 2020.  https://www.aanp.org/news-feed/aanp-announces-loretta-ford-centennial-scholarships-honoring-co-founder-of-nurse-practitioner-np-role-on-her-100th-birthday