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Pioneers of nurse practitioner program sit around table

Remembering Ann Smith: A Pioneering Nurse Practitioner

Colleagues reflect on the legacy of a foundational student and faculty member of CU Nursing

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Written by Bob Mook on July 6, 2022

One of the very first Pediatric Nurse Practitioner graduates in the country, Ann Noordenbos Smith (BS ’64, MS ’65, PhD ’88), helped lay the groundwork for advanced nursing practices which now cover nearly every discipline in healthcare.

CU College of Nursing Ann Smith

Ann Noordenbos Smith
(BS ’64, MS’65, PhD’88)

A trailblazer with strong ties to the University of Colorado College of Nursing, Smith is being remembered by friends and colleagues for her modest and supportive nature as well as her significant contributions to the field. Smith died on April 29, 2022, after a lifetime dedicated to nursing and teaching.

“Ann was reserved and quiet, but when she spoke up, believe me, she had some very wise observations and comments,” recalled Loretta “Lee” Ford (EdD ’61), co-founder of the CU Nursing Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program. “People liked Ann because she was very honest. She observed things and was sensitive. She also had a very interesting sense of humor. She’d look at things differently and come up with a comment that would regale us with laughter because they cut right to the core.”

Following her passion out West

The daughter of Dutch parents who immigrated to the United States, Smith was born in Newark, N.J. in Sept. 8, 1939. She acquired her early nursing education in New Jersey where she was licensed as a Registered Nurse.

Like the legendary Ford (now 101 years old), Smith observed the promise and limitations of the nursing profession firsthand while working in New Jersey clinics. Throughout her career, she helped advance the profession through her participation in CU College of Nursing’s foundational nurse practitioner programs as well as a faculty member who advocated for continuing education.

“Our values were similar for nursing and personally too. We had a lot of interchanges,” Ford said from her residence in mid central Florida last month.

In the mid 1960s, Smith moved to Colorado where she was mentored by Ford, co-founder of the first nurse practitioner program at the then-School of Nursing at the University of Colorado Health Sciences. In one retrospective article, Smith said she appreciated Ford’s “interdisciplinary approach” during a time when nurses weren’t commonly trained to handle the more urgent clinical needs that NPs take on today.

“Ann was one of the first people I recruited,” Ford recalled. “She came from the same state that I did but she had a very different perspective. I felt she was a credit to the program and a good model.”

Though Nurse Practitioner students were often mocked as “super nurses” by medical students while the PNP program was still in its infancy, there are now more than 355,000 licensed NPs in the country.

Fast forwarding nearly 60 years later, NPs are considered essential to the healthcare system -- closing many service gaps in rural areas and identifying and addressing social determinants of health that plague urban areas.

Respected among colleagues

One of Smith’s peers, Madeline “Maddie” Nichols (PNP ’67) described Smith as “reliable, knowledgeable, well-educated and compassionate.” Nichols said Smith’s role as a mentor and teacher was critical for all who followed in her footsteps.

“We were a very cohesive group who depended on each other,” Nichols said. As a member of the school’s faculty, Nichols said Smith “gave a lot of students the confidence to provide good, basic health care to kids and parents.”

Smith continued her professional relationship with what is now the CU College of Nursing as a faculty member in the PNP program and later served as Director of the Continuing Education Program, where she became a champion in keeping continuing education alive. In addition, she developed programs that facilitated the role of nurses in rural parts of Colorado.

Ford said the group of nursing pioneers formed close bonds, and Smith was often encouraged by her peers to complete her PhD.

“The whole group put a lot of pressure on her to finish the dissertations. We even tried to make concessions to give her more space and time,” Ford said. Smith finally earned her PhD in 1988 – more than 20 years after receiving her BS.

“I think she’d like to be remembered as a contributor to the nursing field, a well-educated knowledgeable person and she was able to be a communicator with students,” Nichols said.

Smith was instrumental in organizing what is now known as the National Nurse Practitioner Symposium in the Keystone Conference Center. The event now consists of more than 100 sessions and workshops. She was also effective in expanding healthcare services for children with special needs.

Smith’s later years

According to an obituary published shortly after her death, Smith did volunteer work after retirement. She owned a home at Boulder’s historical district and was active with Boulder Folk Dancers and enjoyed a variety of food, arts and entertainment. Nichols said Smith participated in many social gatherings that involved the group of other NP pioneers from CU Nursing.

She was preceded in death by her brother John Andrew and her parents. She is survived by her sister Theresa “Terry” Tannert of Austin, Texas and her former husband Jack Smith.

A memorial service is reportedly being planned for Smith, but no date or location is available at this time. Visit her tribute wall.

1966 photo a group of the first NP students.

Consider giving a gift in honor of Ann Smith to support future Nurse Practitioners at the CU College of Nursing. Make checks payable to:

University of Colorado Foundation
PO Box 17126
Denver CO 80217

On the memo line of the check, please note Ann’s name and make it payable to the CU Foundation. Gifts may also be made online at: https://giving.cu.edu/fund/loretta-c-ford-nurse-practitioner-endowed-fund

Topics: Alumni