History of Samuel Merritt University

Historical photos SMU

The roots of Samuel Merritt University (SMU) go back more than a century.  On January 26, 1909, Samuel Merritt Hospital opened its doors - along with a new School of Nursing. During its first 75 years, the Samuel Merritt School of Nursing prepared hundreds of men and women for nursing careers. Over the years, Samuel Merritt maintained affiliation agreements with other local colleges so that students could complete foundation science and liberal arts courses.  These institutions included Mills College, California State University Hayward (now CSU East Bay), and the College of Alameda. In 1981, the School discontinued its nursing diploma program, became a college, and initiated an innovative four-year baccalaureate nursing program in cooperation with Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga.  Samuel Merritt College (SMC) thus became the first - and one of the few hospital-based nursing schools in the nation - to make a successful transition to a four-year accredited degree-granting institution.

A new era of program expansion and enrollment growth began in 1990 when the College diversified its programs beyond undergraduate nursing by establishing an entry-level Master of Physical Therapy degree program.  In 1992, SMC began offering a Master of Science degree in Nursing, which developed several specialty tracks to prepare nurse anesthetists, family nurse practitioners, and case managers.  The institution admitted its first Master of Occupational Therapy students in 1994, and in 1999, it established the first Master's degree program for Physician Assistants in the western United States. 

In 2001, the College began expanding its programs to regions well beyond the East Bay.  For example, it began offering graduate nursing education at its Sacramento Regional Learning Center.  In 2005, a grant from the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation enabled the College to develop additional learning centers in San Francisco and San Mateo to address the critical nursing shortage through the expansion of its innovative 12-month Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.  It also began offering a number of courses online and a degree program to serve students from a distance.

SMU became a doctoral granting institution with the merger of the California College of Podiatric Medicine (CCPM) and the development of a clinical doctorate in physical therapy in 2002. CCPM, now known as the California School of Podiatric Medicine (CSPM), was originally established in San Francisco in 1914.  

Finally, in 2009, Samuel Merritt College was officially renamed "Samuel Merritt University"  to recognize its growing contribution to research and its success in broadening its mission to provide baccalaureate-, master's-, and doctoral-level programs in multiple health disciplines, preparing tens of thousands of students for entry-level and advanced professional practice in a variety of critical health disciplines.

In 2008,  SMU and Saint Mary's discontinued their historic joint degree program.  The University developed a new program in collaboration with Saint Mary's, Mills College, Holy Names University, and Notre Dame de Namur University.  Students enrolled in this program complete course work at one of the partner schools and then transfer to SMU to complete  nursing courses and obtain a  Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

Over the past three decades, the University corporate oversight has undergone a series of beneficial changes.  In 1982, Samuel Merritt Hospital - SMU's original parent organization - merged with Peralta Hospital to form "Merritt-Peralta Medical Center."  Ten years later, Providence Hospital and Merritt-Peralta Medical Center combined to form "Summit Medical Center."  Finally in 1999, "Alta Bates Summit Medical Center" was created by the merger of Summit Medical Center with Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley. 

Today, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center serves as the University's  parent organization and is the East Bay's largest private, nonprofit provider of tertiary care for the healthcare needs for more than two million residents.  Moreover, the Medical Center is an affiliate of Sutter Health, one of the nation's leading nonprofit, community-based health systems, delivering high quality medical services in more than 100 Northern California communities. 

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