Many women in southwest Colorado have Karen Zink, CNP, MS, to thank for providing medical care that wouldn’t have been available without her.
Ms. Zink, who earned a master’s degree from the College of Nursing in 1987, is the founder of the Durango-based Southwest Women’s Health Associates (SWHA), one of the only clinics in the area offering primary and preventive care for women, as well as gynecological care including endometrial biopsies, colposcopies, and contraceptive care.
When it opened, SWHA was only the second clinic in the United States staffed entirely by nurse practitioners. Ms. Zink worked with the Colorado Nurses Association to bring full practice authority to nurse practitioners and served on congressional committees to ensure that nurse practitioners, once appropriately licensed, have the freedom to provide health care services independently. As a native of southwest Colorado, she understood that many rural Coloradans have no readily available access to a clinician, and that nurse practitioners could be a solution to the state’s health care provider shortage.
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At SWHA, Ms. Zink mentors CU nursing students to ensure there is a pipeline of new nurses focused on community medicine and rural populations. Today, the clinic provides holistic care and has a market offering healthy and affordable food choices. She has been recognized by the American Nursing Association for sustained contributions to the profession and by her community as the “best nurse” with a readers’ choice award from the local newspaper.
Ms. Zink’s interest in nursing was inspired by her mother, Marilyn Mason Short, a nursing leader who helped to set up the first emergency department at Mercy Hospital in Durango. Ms. Zink started her medical education at Mercy; she went on to earn her BSN from Loretto Heights in Denver, and then earned her master’s degree from the CU School of Nursing.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Durango community suffered a shortage of personal protective equipment, Ms. Zink acquired vital safety gear from overseas. As soon as vaccines became available, she created a rollout plan so that residents of Durango had easy and equitable access.
“Karen Zink is deeply passionate about caring for her community and empowering nurse practitioners to offer quality and compassionate care to our neighbors who are often left behind by our health care system,” says Eli Provencio-Vasquez, PhD, RN, dean of the CU College of Nursing.
For her innovative leadership in Colorado health care, the Board of Regents is pleased to award the Distinguished Service Award to Karen Zink.