Our History

The roots of Samuel Merritt University 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 women and men 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, Samuel Merritt 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 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, the college began offering a master of science in nursing degree, 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. In 1999, it established the first master's degree program for physician assistants in the western United States. 

From College to University

In 2001, the College began expanding its programs to regions beyond the East Bay, 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 degree programs to serve students from a distance.

SMU became a doctoral degree-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. 

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.

In 2009, Samuel Merritt College was renamed Samuel Merritt University to recognize its growing contribution to research and its success in broadening its mission to provide bachelor's-, 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.

Partners in Healthcare

Over recent decades, the University corporate oversight has undergone a series of 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.

In 2022, the University became fully independent from Sutter Health.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing opens on January 26, 1909 with dormitories on the second and third floors of the South Ward of Samuel Merritt Hospital.   It was founded with a bequest from Dr. Samuel Merritt upon his death in 1890. 

Providence School of Nursing, founded in 1904, graduates its third class.

Mrs. Henrietta Farrelly donates $50,000 to Samuel Merritt Hospital to build Farrelly Home for Student Nurses.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing graduates its first class of 13 nurses.

The California School of Chiropody is founded, by the California State Association of Chiropodists, in San Francisco.  S. Rutherford Levy (1877-1944) is named the School's first President.

The first major outbreak of poliomyelitis occurs.  “Reconstruction aides” (later to become known as physical therapists) help recovering patients regain muscle strength and flexibility.

The California School of Chiropody graduates its first class of eight students.

The California School of Chiropody is initially accredited by the Council on Podiatry Education of the American Podiatry Association.

Peralta Hospital, a 120-bed plush acute facility, opens its doors.  Five Oakland physicians had banded together to create this distinctive medical institution named in honor of the Don Luis Maria Peralta family who received the original Spanish land grant for much of the East Bay.

Fabiola Hospital, the first general hospital in the East Bay, closes due to the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

A special bronze tablet, commemorating Dr. Merritt, the physician, shipmaster, philanthropist and founder of The Samuel Merritt Hospital is placed on Dr. Merritt's crypt in Mountain View Cemetery.  (Merritt was one of the cemetery's organizers and its first president.)

Merritt and Peralta blacken their windows facing San Francisco to comply with wartime blackout regulations - troubling signs that World War II's home front emergency state applies even in traditional places of healing.

Samuel Merritt Hospital is recognized for providing care and services to the medically indigent and for educating nurses when it is named beneficiary of Fabiola Hospital's assets.

Five Sisters of Providence incorporate the School of Nursing, on January 29, 1940, making it a separate institution named Providence College of Nursing.

West Coast industry shifts gears to meet the threat of war and the hospital community is disrupted as physicians and nurses leave to serve wartime medical needs.  Facing an acute nursing shortage, the U.S. Surgeon General announces allocation of funds to provide for the training of nurses under the newly founded Cadet Nursing Corps.  Providence and Merritt participate.

The role of the physical therapist progresses increasingly from that of a technician to a professional practitioner and becomes more common within the hospital setting.

Samuel Merritt School of Nursing receives temporary accreditation from the National Accrediting Service of the League of Nursing Education.

The National League for Nursing visits and fully accredits Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing's diploma program for the first time.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing collaborates with Mills College to enable student nurses to fulfill their general studies requirements.

Alumnae create a scholarship fund to support enrolled students at Samuel Merritt.

Barbara Bechtel Davies, graduate of Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing, becomes first woman member of the Merritt Hospital Board of Directors.

The California School of Chiropody opens on its San Francisco campus the Pacific Coast Hospital, a facility uniquely designed and equipped for foot and ankle surgery.

The California School of Chiropody receives its initial accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Dr. Henry McIntosh, cardiologist at Duke University, trains local firemen in emergency procedures for the community; in exchange, off-duty firemen staff the cardiac catheterization laboratory; former Navy hospital corpsmen are hired for similar roles. These health care providers are first called “physician's assistants” by Duke's payroll department.

The California School of Chiropody becomes the California Podiatry College.

U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart assigns Dr. Richard A. Smith to develop a physician assistant training program.  He develops the MEDEX (Med-icine Ex-tension) model with a strong emphasis on deploying students and graduates into medically underserved communities.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing sponsors a six-week training program for hospital housekeeping and dietary aides in association with Laney College; 16 students graduate.

Mills College provides courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and sociology for Samuel Merritt nursing students.

Samuel Merritt Hospital celebrates its 56th anniversary with the announcement of Project 70, an $8 million expansion program that will make the hospital one of the nation's leading medical facilities.  The five-year program begins with a new school of nursing and student residence to replace Farrelly Hall.

More than 1,000 Samuel Merritt graduates celebrate the completion of the new school of nursing and student residence at Homecoming.  The School names the lower level courtyard and classrooms in memory of Mr. and Mrs. George S. Towne.  The six-story student residence above is christened Bechtel Hall, in honor of Stephen D. Bechtel, a major contributor to the building project.

Look Magazine article entitled “More than a nurse, less than a doctor” catapults the physician assistant concept to national attention, but undermines attempts to foster nurses' acceptance of physician assistants.

Merritt Monogram Newsletter reports a troubling nursing shortage, which first surfaced shortly after World War II, and forecasts an even more critical shortage.

Amendments to the Social Security Act (SSA) add a definition of “outpatient physical therapy services,” paving the way toward many new opportunities for physical therapists.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing opens an instructional laboratory (later to become known as the Nursing Resource Lab).  Betty Reed Moffitt, a 1944 Samuel Merritt nursing alum, is assigned to develop an audiovisual center (later to become a video production facility known as Studio Three) in Towne Court.

Duke University hosts the first of four national conferences on physician assistants (PA) to promote development and standardization of educational program curricula, advance the PA concept, and develop model legislation for PAs.

The California Podiatry College changes its name to the California College of Podiatric Medicine.

American Medical Association's House of Delegates passes a resolution recognizing physician assistants, and Kaiser Permanente becomes the first health maintenance organization (HMO) to employ physician assistants.

The East Bay Health Foundation recommends consolidation of services by four hospitals:  Merritt, Peralta, Providence, and Children's.  All four boards agree in principal.  The recommendation is based on a study by SRI, formerly Stanford Research Institute.

With 1,515 graduates over 68 years, Providence Hospital School of Nursing closes due to dwindling enrollment.

American Medical Association develops national certification and codification of physician assistant practice characteristics, and the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP) is established with 16 charter members to facilitate communication and cooperation among physician assistant education programs at American universities and colleges.

A male student enrolls in the freshman Summer Program and subsequently joins the junior class.

The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) administers the first Certifying Examination to physician assistant candidates. 

The California College of Podiatric Medicine establishes an agreement with the University of California - San Francisco when the state legislature appropriates funds for podiatric medical education.

Seventy students graduate in a ceremony held at the First United Presbyterian Church.  This is the largest class to graduate from Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing and includes the first male graduate.

Sharon C. Diaz, after joining the faculty as a medical-surgical nursing instructor in 1973, is appointed acting Director of the School of Nursing.

A housing policy is approved requiring all unmarried students who have not reached their 25th birthday by September 1, to live in housing provided by the School.

Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing actively seeks partners in higher education to offer nursing degrees.  Mills College faculty votes to approve a BS degree program in nursing that grants 36 units of credit for Samuel Merritt courses.  Negotiations begin for affiliation agreements with Holy Names College and Saint Mary's College.  Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing affiliates with the College of Alameda to offer an associate of science degree in nursing, its first program beyond the diploma level.

The California Board of Registered Nursing approves the Intercollegiate Nursing Program curriculum, clearing the way for Samuel Merritt to offer the BSN degree with Saint Mary's College.

The Rural Health Clinic Services Act (PL95-210) provides Medicare reimbursement of physician assistant (PA) and nurse practitioner (NP) services in rural clinics.

Studio Three, the College's audiovisual center, makes its public debut on local cable stations providing health education programming.

Samuel Merritt Hospital Board of Directors approves change of name to Samuel Merritt Hospital College of Nursing and approves a resolution for Samuel Merritt Hospital College of Nursing to affiliate with Saint Mary's College to offer a joint bachelor of science in nursing degree.

The first class of cooperative AD/Diploma students is awarded degrees during the Saint Mary's College commencement ceremony.

Occupational Therapy extends its focus beyond disability to become more involved in education, prevention, screenings, and health maintenance.  Goals of occupational therapy in the 1980s and 90s focus on preventing injury, improving quality of life, and maintaining independence.

The diploma program is discontinued and Samuel Merritt College initiates an innovative, four-year, entry-level baccalaureate nursing degree program in cooperation with Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga - the West's first four-year intercollegiate nursing program jointly sponsored by a hospital and a college featuring a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

As health care cost containment becomes a major public policy issue, the article “Staffing Primary Care in 1990: Physician Replacement and Costs Savings” reveals that physician assistants based in an HMO can provide 79 percent of care traditionally performed by primary care physicians at 50 percent of the cost.

Samuel Merritt Hospital and Peralta Hospital merge to become Merritt Peralta Medical Center and the College of Nursing moves toward becoming a separate corporation after 73 years as a department of Merritt Hospital.

Merritt Peralta Foundation votes for the provisional support for a campaign to build a library and auditorium adjoining Bechtel Hall.

An inaugural Convocation is held to celebrate the appointment of the first chancellor, Mr. Richard J. McCann, and the first President, Ms. Sharon C. Diaz.

Dr. Gordon Lamb, head of the Samuel Merritt Hospital medical staff, and Mr. Richard Wickel, Samuel Merritt Hospital administrator, receive honorary nursing degrees during the first Samuel Merritt College/Saint Mary's College Intercollegiate Nursing Commencement.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits Samuel Merritt College, making it one of the first hospital-based nursing schools in the nation to become an independent, accredited four-year college.

Samuel Merritt College awards its first Honorary Doctorate in Nursing Humanities to Barbara Bechtel Davies, a diploma graduate from the class of 1953, in recognition of her service to the College, Samuel Merritt Hospital, and the Oakland community. .

Eight hundred alumni and guests attend Homecoming celebrations at Samuel Merritt College.

After a successful $6.8 million capital campaign, the Health Education Center opens.  The Center has 13 modern classrooms equipped with video players, a 250-seat auditorium, a nursing resource laboratory, the Bechtel multi-purpose room, and the John A. Graziano Memorial Library.

Samuel Merritt College completes the final step to become an independent institution when it is declared a tax-exempt organization by the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California Franchise Tax Board.

The first Board of Regents for Samuel Merritt College of Nursing is comprised of Sharon Diaz, Dr. Gordon Frost, George Hill, Gordon Huber, Jr., Dr. William S.T. Jackson, Richard J. McCann, and Marlene Settlemier.

The California College of Podiatric Medicine celebrates its 75th Anniversary.

A kinetic sculpture Universalis Centralis by Jerome Kirk is placed in Towne Plaza of the Health Education Center.  This sculpture will become the College's symbol.

A Dedication Ceremony is held on October 15th for the Fontaine Auditorium.

The Samuel Merritt College Board of Regents passes resolution establishing the Samuel Merritt College Nursing Education Endowment Fund and the Samuel Merritt College Endowment Fund.

Consistent with national trends in nursing, Samuel Merritt College of Nursing's enrollment drops by more than 50 percent between 1984 and 1988.  With 149 undergraduate students, leadership recognizes the need to diversify beyond nursing programs.  A feasibility study for a graduate program in physical therapy is presented to the Samuel Merritt College Board of Regents.

The Helene Fuld Health Trust selects Samuel Merritt and Studio Three to participate in its national project to demonstrate the benefits of interactive video technology in nursing education.

The Board of Regents approves the legal name change for Samuel Merritt College of Nursing to become Samuel Merritt College as the institution undertakes the planning for its first degree program outside of the nursing profession and its first graduate degree.

The Department of Physical Therapy is founded, and the first class of entry-level master's of physical therapy students is enrolled.

The American with Disabilities Act and the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research lead to new opportunities for physical therapy practice.

Samuel Merritt College moves rapidly into graduation education, developing several new programs: Master of Science in Nursing with specialization in Nursing of High-Risk Populations, Medical-Surgical Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Anesthesia; Master of Science in Physical Therapy with orthopedic and neurological specialties; and the Master of Occupational Therapy.

Studio Three earns national awards for its health sciences education videos used in colleges and universities across the country.

On March 1, Merritt Peralta Medical Center and Providence Hospital consolidate to become Summit Medical Center, which provides the College an opportunity to welcome Providence College of Nursing alumni into the Samuel Merritt College family. 

Samuel Merritt College awards its first master's degrees in physical therapy at its new Graduate Commencement ceremony. This charter class achieves a 100 percent pass rate on the national licensure examination.

The Board of Regents approves development of a master of occupational therapy program.

First international nursing course takes place in London, England, with 15 students enrolled.

The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs awards full accreditation to the graduate program in nurse anesthesia that Samuel Merritt developed in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente.

The Occupational Therapy Program is established and enrolls its first class of students.

Construction is completed on the physical therapy and occupational therapy laboratories and classrooms in the West Pavilion, formerly Peralta Hospital.

Foundations support creation of the Scholars in Service program to serve the East Bay through minority enrollment in the undergraduate nursing program.

An entry-level master's degree in nursing for college graduates with degrees in other fields (ELMSN) is initiated.

The occupational therapy program graduates the charter class of Master of Occupational Therapy students.

The California College of Podiatric Medicine agrees to provide Touro University of New York with the infrastructure, educational program, student services, and facilities to support the first two years of basic science instruction for osteopathic medical students who would be enrolling in the new Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP) reports 28,500 physician assistants in active practice; with prescribing authorized in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Guam.  Samuel Merritt College begins planning for the first entry-level graduate Physician Assistant Program in the western United States.

The College closes Studio Three, its video production facility, as video production and learning technologies move into the digital age.

Samuel Merritt College becomes the first institution of higher education to receive the prestigious California Governor's Quality Award. 

Enrollment more than quadruples in ten years, reaching a high of 748 students in seven degree programs.

Summit Medical Center and Alta Bates Hospital merge to become Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

Mississippi is the last state to enact legislation authorizing physician assistants to practice in the state after 25 years of effort by local and national organizations.

Master of Science in Nursing - Online program established.   

Nursing becomes the first program to be offered at a distance from the Oakland campus with the inauguration of the Entry-level Master of Science in Nursing program at the Sacramento Regional Learning Center.

The California College of Podiatric Medicine sells its campus located in San Francisco and moves to temporary accommodations on the Vallejo campus of Touro University.

The California College of Podiatric Medicine merges with Samuel Merritt College, becoming the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt College, and relocates to Oakland.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education approves Samuel Merritt College's entry-level doctoral degree in physical therapy (DPT) and the charter class is enrolled.  This is the first Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in Northern California.

Samuel Merritt College's graduates of the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine and Master Physician Assistant program surpass the national average score on their certification and/or licensure exams.  

A new certificate program in Examination, Assessment, and Intervention of the Hand and Upper Quadrant is established under the auspices of the Occupational Therapy Program.

The Physician Assistant Program graduates achieve 100 percent pass rates on the National Certifying Examination for the third year running.

Samuel Merritt College forges innovative undergraduate education partnerships with three regionally accredited colleges and universities: Holy Names University, Mills College, and Saint Mary's College of California to replace the Intercollegiate Nursing Program with a 2+2 curriculum that admits students for concentration in nursing at the beginning of their junior year in college.

Samuel Merritt College reaches student enrollment in excess of 1,100 and becomes eligible to have freeway signs placed at exits on freeways near College campus in Oakland. 

In response to the long-term nursing shortage, Samuel Merritt develops a one-year Bachelor of Science accelerated program for college graduates (ABSN) and admits its first class.  Research shows that the College is the largest provider of licensed nurses in the state of California, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards Samuel Merritt College a competitive grant to replicate the ABSN program at three sites in the Bay Area.

Samuel Merritt College's San Francisco Learning Center opens its doors on the St. Luke's Hospital campus with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Samuel Merritt College opens its state-of-the-art Health Sciences Simulation Center on its Oakland campus enabling the College to adopt simulation learning throughout its health professional programs.

Samuel Merritt College opens the San Mateo Learning Center with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.  The Center houses two classrooms, a 12-bed patient bed skills lab, ten private offices, a computer lab/library, conference room, and a break/lounge room.

Forty eight new graduates of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science Program and 40 graduates of the Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing in Sacramento receive 100 percent first-time pass rates on the state licensing examination, NCLEX.

The first named Occupational Therapy Scholarship is established at Samuel Merritt College by Pradip and Rekha Choksi.

Jan. 26, 2009
Samuel Merritt College celebrates 100 years of history and accomplishment and announces that it shall be known as Samuel Merritt University effective January 27, 2009.

President Sharon Diaz celebrates 40 years with Samuel Merritt University. Read more.