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100-year-old nurse receives distinguished national public health service award

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Posted at 2:46 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 17:47:31-05

In the midst of a global public health crisis, a 100-year-old nurse practitioner received the Surgeon General's Medallion. It's the highest honor civilians can receive for public health service, and Dr. Loretta Ford received it for her contributions to, and her help in the creation of, the nurse practitioner profession.

Humble to her core, Dr. Loretta Ford tells us, she got to where she is because of others.

Ford received a Doctorate in Education, her doctoral work was connected to public health nursing administration. A few years later, Ford co-founded the first Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Colorado and essentially built the profession.

She says, “I’m the proudest of the nurses who pioneered the nurse practitioner role and I’ll tell you why- it's not for the role but it’s what happened to the individual practitioner in terms of her concept, or his concept of him or herself.”

But, to understand where she's sitting today, you have to go back to the 1960s. When she realized that children and families weren't getting the care they needed.

“Public health is my field, I’m a committed public health nurse. The reason I got into the kinds of things I’ve gotten into in my career has always been based on the values and worth of public health.”

So, she co-founded a program that would provide nurses with more schooling, allowing them to both diagnose and prescribe treatment. That program quickly grew, and by the 70s, it was a huge success.

“That really started what is the nurse practitioner profession. Now there are 290,000 nurse practitioners providing over 1 billion patients each year. We are there to provide access to health care for the patients who so desperately need it,” said Dr. Sophia Thomas.

She's the current president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

“I think what’s so interesting is Dr. Ford when she started the NP program, she really did bring in the holistic approach that nurse practitioners use.”

Dr. Ford's model for care helped nurses look for, and examine the critical factors connected to health. Things like the environment, economics, and mental health.

“Dr. ford is regarded as one of the most influential nurses of the 20th century - yet she deflects all attempts to give her credit for her incredible work in the existence of the nurse practitioner," said Thomas.

When we asked how she did it, Dr. Ford says she's "not special" and hopes those who choose a career in nurse practitioning realize that their presence is everything, saying “even as we get more technologically advanced, still the core of nursing is caring and compassion and empathy for the patient and their families.”

She also recommends getting to 100. Because, as she so candidly tells us, you can learn a lot.

“It's about time we have had some humor introduced into the world.”

Dr. Ford admits the roads to success are windy and not always great.

“I’ve been kissed and kicked and reviled and revered and crucified and credited but I haven’t been botoxed or detoxed now that’s a record isn’t it.”

As funny as Dr. Ford can be, Dr. Thomas says our nation's nurses wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for the path Dr. Ford paved.

“I think the surgeon general realizes and recognizes the impact that Dr. Ford has had on the health of America over the last several decades. It's an honor so well deserved we’re so proud of her she deserves all the kudos," Thomas said.