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Henry K. Silver, MD

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As Professor of Pediatrics, Henry K. Silver, MD, (1918-1991) joined Loretta C. Ford, EdD, Professor and Chair of Public Health Nursing, to begin the first pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) training program in the USA. The program opened in 1965 at the University of Colorado’s Schools of Medicine and Nursing with Susan G. Stearly, MS, enrolled as the first student. In 1968, Dr. Silver launched the Child Health Associate Program at the University of Colorado Medical Center. Individuals with 2-3 years of college education enrolled in the 3-year training program to become physician assistants (PA) to provide primary health care services to children. The Child Health Associate program was the first PA program to offer its graduates a master’s degree.

Dr. Silver was born in Philadelphia, PA. He attended high school, college and medical school in California. He completed a pediatric internship at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and a pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He was an Assistant Professor of pediatrics at UCSF before he moved to Yale University School of Medicine where he rose to the rank of Associate professor. In 1957 he moved to the University of Colorado School of Medicine as Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics.

He was director of the Child Health Associate (now the Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant) Program from 1968-1991. Dr. Silver was a recognized expert in general pediatrics, pediatric endocrinology and growth. The Silver Syndrome, a syndrome of failure to grow, bears his name. He was one of the early pioneers in the recognition of child abuse and neglect recognizing the implications these syndromes had on normal growth in children. He was the senior editor of the Handbook of Pediatrics and Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment and two other books. He published over 100 articles in the medical literature. He served as Associate Dean for Admissions for the MD program where he brought an emphasis on diversity to the selection of students. Along with Anita Glicken, he published the pioneer study on the recognition of medical student abuse.

Among Dr. Silver’s many awards is the prestigious Institute of Medicine Gustav O. Lienhard Award for outstanding achievement in improving health and services in the United States. In the early and mid 1960s, he recognized that there were many children not receiving medical care and he developed three programs to address this problem. These included the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program, the Child Health Associate Program (1968) and the School Nurse Practitioner program (1970). The University of Colorado PNP program is generally recognized as the basis for the entire nurse practitioner profession. In a letter dated November 1, 1981, Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. acknowledged Dr. Silver’s important contributions that led to the establishment of the PA profession. He said “Your statement about the chronology is correct. The demonstration that you could effectively use nurse practitioners was one of the happenings that led to the establishment of the Duke PA Program.” Dr. Silver succeeded where Dr. Stead had failed in the late 1950’s to provide nurses with advanced clinical training so they could assume greater roles in patient care.

The CHA/PA Program was the first and remains the only PA program to focus on the health care needs of children. Dr. Silver recognized the need to document the educational, legal and health care ramifications of these new professions. He and his colleagues published multiple articles on these topics as well as documenting the competency, efficiency and effectiveness of the Child Health Associate (PA).

Dr. Silver died of cancer at the age of 72 in 1991.

See References and Publications for articles written by Dr. Silver about the development of the pediatric nurse practitioner and child health associate (PA) programs and careers.

Acknowledgement: We thank Dr. Gerald B. Merenstein, MD for preparing and editing this biographic sketch of Dr. Henry K. Silver.

The banner photograph is courtesy of the PA History Society. Dr. Silver is speaking at the 1978 AAPA conference. The second photograph is courtesy of Dr. Silver’s family.

When using information from this biography, please provide the proper citation as described within the PA History Society Terms of Use.