In the early 1970s, Dr. Frank Speizer began the Nurses’ Health Study with the hope of learning more about the potential long-term risk factors for cancer and cardiovascular disease on women. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Registered nurses were selected for the original study because researchers anticipated that their nursing education would increase their ability to respond with a high degree of accuracy to brief, technically-worded questionnaires. Researchers also hoped that nurses’ commitment to health would help motivate them to participate in a long-term study. The study still focuses on nurses so the researchers can most accurately track changes over time.

In 1976, married RNs from the 11 most populous states were recruited using contact information provided by local nursing boards. The states were: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Letters were sent out to 170,000 nurses and a total of 122,000 nurses responded. Those 122,000 nurses became Nurses’ Health Study 1. Ninety percent of them still participate!