When the SON’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program launched in 1970, it was not only the first NP program in the state, but was also among the first FNP programs in the country. Dean Emerita Cynthia Freund, who was heavily involved in the early days of the program, recently created a new fund to support work to preserve and document this important milestone in SON history.

“The NP program was a very significant development for the School and is an important contribution to the School’s legacy,” explains Dr. Freund, PhD, MSN ’73, FNP.

A unique story

SON’s FNP Program offered a model for NP programs that later developed across the country and North Carolina. Unlike other programs formed around the same time, the SON FNP program was developed by an interdisciplinary team of medical, nursing and public health professionals, in collaboration with the state’s new Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) and Rural Health programs.

The FNP, AHEC and Rural Health programs were all aimed at solving larger societal problems involving health care delivery and availability. The synergy that developed helped all three programs grow and achieve their goals. There was also strong community involvement in the FNP program, with community leaders urging implementation of the program and leading the way for nurse practitioners in their own communities.

In the 1980s, Dr. Freund and Audrey Booth, the School’s associate dean at the time, set about to document important aspects of the program’s history by conducting recorded interviews with key players in the nurse practitioner movement and the AHEC and Rural Health Programs. They also obtained audiotapes of some of the country’s first NP conferences, many of which were held at UNC.

In the 1970s, the Family NP program was not a degree-granting program, and thus neither SON nor the University maintained records of enrollment, graduates, program policies, etc. However, Dr. Freund and Booth did obtain some of the early files from the program’s first director, Judy Watkins.

Dr. Freund collected and maintained this historical material because she aimed to eventually write a book that would tell the story behind the unique development of SON’s FNP program. “I personally believe that if you really want to understand the present you have to understand the past,” Dr. Freund says.

The early ’70s NP faculty.

A lead gift to the N.C. Nurse Practitioner Collection Fund from an early FNP graduate, Agnes Binder Weisiger, FNP ’73, has helped Dr. Freund begin the process of having the audio and paper files converted to digital versions that will form the North Carolina Nurse Practitioner Historical Collection in the Special Collections Division at the UNC Health Science Library.

As the first NP to practice in Charlotte, Weisiger has seen the nurse practitioner role mature over the years. “As nursing roles continue to evolve to meet ever-changing healthcare needs, it is important that we not lose sight of how nurse practitioners first came to be,” says Weisiger. “This is especially true for North Carolina, where a unique set of people and circumstances led to the development of the FNP program at SON.”

Dr. Freund continues to gather materials for the collection. She would like to hear from alumni or others who were part of the SON FNP program in the 1970s. “We don’t have a complete list of all the students who were in the program then,” Dr. Freund says. “I would also like to enlarge and enrich the collection by acquiring additional materials such as newspaper articles about the program and our early FNPs and related photos that people may have.”

You can help support the work of transcribing, digitizing and preserving historical information tied to the SON FNP program by donating to the North Carolina Nurse Practitioner Collection Fund at giving.unc.edu/gift/son. Contact Dr. Freund at cindyfreund@me.com to contribute information, photos or other materials. Original materials can be returned after they are digitized.
Categories: Development, Education, Faculty
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