The Evolution of the Nurse Practitioner:

From the 1960’s to Today

The profession of the Nurse Practitioner is slightly more than 50 years old, with a history that dates back to 1965 and mission that has stood the test of time.

1960’s:  The Beginning

The very first NP program emerged at the University of Colorado in 1965, under the guidance of assistant professor of nursing Loretta Ford, RN and pediatrician Henry Silver, MD. The vision for the program was to train nurses who could serve rural communities as an extension of the state’s physician practices. Within two years, Boston College began offering the nation’s first master’s program for NPs, which was soon followed by the hospital-based Massachusetts General Nurse Practitioner Program.

1970’s:  A Time of Growth

By 1973, there were 65 Nurse Practitioner programs in the United States, representing an exponential growth rate over just eight years. The American Nurses Association (ANA) helped to formalize the role by creating the Council of Primary Care Nurse Practitioners the following year. As the decade came to a close, approximately 15,000 NPs were practicing and paving the way to the future.

1980’s:  Opportunities and Challenges

As the 1980’s began, there were then 200 educational options available for aspiring Nurse Practitioners. The continued growth and popularity of the profession spoke to the need to better organize the nation’s NPs. As such, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) was founded in 1985 to represent and lead NPs in transforming the health care landscape. The decade was not without its challenges, however, as the Missouri medical board took two Nurse Practitioners to court for practicing medicine without a license. An initial ruling against the NPs was overturned upon appeal.

1990’s:  An Expanding Profession

In 1992, the AANP began working with nursing associations in the United Kingdom. This was the first step to the ultimate global expansion and recognition of the Nurse Practitioner role.  Meanwhile, articles in the Yale Journal on Regulation and the New England Journal of Medicine supported the argument that NPs were a cost-effective and high-quality source of primary care. By 1999, there were 68,300 NPs practicing in the United States.

2000’s:  A Milestone Decade

By the year 2000, Nurse Practitioners had received legal authority to practice in every state. This was fortuitous timing. Hundreds of NPs came together from across the U.S. to help support the communities of New York City and Washington, D.C. immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Within a few years, Congress proclaimed the recognition of National Nurse Practitioner Week which would now be honored each November. By 2009, the profession had reached approximately 130,000 practicing NPs.

2010’s and Beyond:  Your Time is Now

The decade began with 140,000 NPs, a number that has grown to 222,000 in 2016. This is an outstanding time of opportunity for the profession as Nurse Practitioners act to fill the gap caused by a shortage of primary care physicians.

The average age of today’s Nurse Practitioner is 48, with 16 percent aged 60 and older. Approximately 86 percent hold a Master of Science in Nursing with 76 percent adding a specialty certification. Perhaps most important of all is that 92 percent of Nurse Practitioners report high levels of job satisfaction.

If you are an experienced RN interested in becoming an NP, it’s not too late. Your time is now


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Historical Timeline

Nursing World, Historical Perspectives on an Expanded Role for Nursing

The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, Journal for Nurse Practitioners, “Practice Patterns and Characteristics of Nurse Practitioners in the United States”

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