The Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery was started in 1939 by the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) as a part of its demonstration project in the care of the mother and child in rural areas of Kentucky. When FNS began using nurse-midwives in the United States in 1925, it was able to secure a qualified staff in only two ways, by sending the American nurses to Great Britain for graduate training or by enlisting British nurses already qualified as midwives. In the early years, the FNS offered scholarships to American nurses to go to Great Britain for training in nurse-midwifery, and recruited British nurse-midwives.
From the beginning, Mary Breckinridge viewed nurse-midwifery as central to health care. When World War II started in 1939, a number of the British members of the FNS staff wished to return to their homes. Under war conditions, it was not possible to continue to send American nurses to Great Britain. The FNS immediately put into operation its plan for a graduate school of nurse-midwifery. The Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery enrolled its first class November 1, 1939. The Frontier Nursing University has been in continuous operation since that time.
As the number of births decreased in Leslie County during the 1980s it became difficult to support a traditional midwifery program. In 1989 the nurse-midwifery program was transferred to the University of New Mexico. That class graduated on October 27, 1991 under the flag of the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing (FSMFN). During this time period, the Community-based Nurse-midwifery Education Program (CNEP) began as a pilot project funded by the PEW Foundation. The development of the CNEP was originally a cooperative effort of the Maternity Center Association (MCA), the National Association of Childbearing Centers (NACC), Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University (FPBSON/CWRU) and the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). The goal was to enable nurses to remain in their communities while obtaining graduate education as nurse-midwives and ultimately increase the number of practicing nurse-midwives working in underserved areas. The pilot project was very successful. In 1990, the FSMFN recognized that the CNEP model of education matched its own goals and mission. The President of the School and the Board of Directors voted to adopt the CNEP as its nurse-midwifery education program in 1991. Since then CNEP has graduated over 1100 nurse-midwives.
In the late 1960s, the Frontier Nursing Service recognized that as health care options became more complex, a broader based education was necessary for nurses to be able to provide comprehensive primary care to all family members. At this time the FSMFN developed the first certificate program to prepare family nurse practitioners. In 1970, the name of the School was changed to the FSMFN to reflect the addition of the FNP program. The last class to graduate from the combined family nurse-midwifery program was in August of 1990. The Community-based Family Nurse Practitioner (CFNP) education program was reestablished in 1999 using the CNEP distance education model. With the acceptance of CFNP class 1 in 1999, the FSMFN comes full circle in its mission to educate nurses to provide primary care that is comprehensive, safe, and culturally sensitive. In 2003 FSMFN began offering an MSN in the specialties of nurse-midwifery and family nurse practitioner, and a certificate in the women’s health care nurse practitioner specialty. In 2005, FSMFN added the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner track to the MSN options and added a post-master’s certificate for all three tracks.
In October 2004, the members of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) endorsed the Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing which called for moving the level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles from the master's degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015. FSMFN moved forward with plans to include the addition of a Doctor of Nursing Practice in the program offerings in 2007. The first class of DNP students will enroll in October 2008. The introduction of the DNP will ensure that FSMFN remains a leading institution in advanced practice nursing education and offers quality programs at all levels to nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners throughout the country.
On July 1, 2011 the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing officially changed its name to the Frontier Nursing University to better reflect its status as a graduate school of nursing.