Nancy Theilgaard Watts, PhD, PT, FAPTA, a visionary who was instrumental in the 1977 creation of MGH Institute of Health Professions, passed away at Massachusetts General Hospital on April 4, 2011. She was 83.
Dr. Watts was recruited by Massachusetts General Hospital in 1974 to help develop a new and innovative interprofessional school after the hospital voted to close its diploma nursing school. The MGH Institute became the country’s first graduate school dedicated solely to educating health care professionals in a variety of disciplines.
“Nancy Watts was a visionary leader whose heart and soul remain part of the fabric of the Institute even today,” said President Janis P. Bellack, PhD, RN, FAAN. “Her inspiration and continuous support of the Institute will be greatly missed.”
After working with hospital colleagues to create the MGH Institute, Dr. Watts served as its first academic leader during the school’s early years. She then became the first Director of the Graduate Program in Physical Therapy, which graduated the Instittue's first student in 1983.
“Nancy was a true pioneer in physical therapy, and played a significant role in our profession's maturation,” said Leslie P. Portney, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, Department Chair for Physical Therapy and Interim Dean of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “She contributed to the foundations for research, education, and international collaboration. Her influence stands as a true legacy to all of us who followed her at the Institute and in the profession of physical therapy.”
Throughout her professional life, Dr. Watts focused on educating health care professionals. Her major academic interests concerned interdisciplinary education, clinical teaching, the economics of health care, and analysis of the process of reasoning used by clinicians.
“Nancy identified cost-effective care strategies, patient-centered care, and evidence-based practice long before they became buzz words,” noted Bette Ann Harris, DPT, MS, the Institute's Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and a former student of Dr. Watts. “She displayed remarkable skill applying concepts from her early studies in economics and education to workable practices for the health professions.”
Dr. Watts received the Institute’s first Excellence in Teaching Award in 1989. In 1996, the yearly faculty award was renamed the Nancy T. Watts Award for Excellence in Teaching to honor her long-standing influence at the school.
Throughout her professional life, Dr. Watts served on a number of national and international commissions, and frequently taught and consulted in Britain, Scandinavia, Africa, and Latin America. In addition, she was on the original founding board of the Foundation for Physical Therapy that was created to promote and foster research, and was active in the World Confederation for Physical Therapy.
She received several awards and honors from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), including the Baethke-Carlin Award for Excellence in Academic Teaching and the Mary McMillan Lectureship, the organization's highest award. In 1986 Dr. Watts was named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (FAPTA), the highest honor among APTA's membership categories.
Dr. Watts graduated from Grinnell College, received a certificate in physical therapy from Simmons College, and obtained her Master of Art and PhD from the University of Chicago.
She received honorary degrees from Grinnell College, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and the University of New England.
Prior to arriving at the MGH Institute, she taught at the National University of Mexico, Tufts University, University of Wisconsin, and Boston University.
A memorial service for Dr. Watts was held Friday, April 15, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at:
The Winchester Unitarian Society
478 Main Street
For those who wish to honor Dr. Watts at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, memorial gifts may be made in support of the Nancy T. Watts Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Studies.
Checks made payable to MGH Institute of Health Professions should be mailed to:
MGH Institute of Health Professions
Office of Institutional Advancements
31 First Avenue
Charlestown Navy Yard
Boston, MA 02129
Or gifts may be made securely online to the
Nancy T. Watts Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Studies
Condolences should be sent to:
Ms. Barbara Adams
6 Inverness Rd
Winchester, MA 01890
Dr. Nancy Watts was a true pioneer, and her influence and impact will continue to be felt for years to come by the Institute and the many individuals whose lives she touched.
If you have a remembrance about Dr. Watts that you would like to share with the Institute community, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.