"Why Would I Lead?"
The Inaugural Address of Paula Milone-Nuzzo
Paula Milone-Nuzzo, PhD, RN, FHHC, FAAN, was officially installed on December 7, 2017 as the sixth president of MGH Institute of Health Professions.
Before I begin my formal remarks, there are several people that I want to recognize and thank for being part of this special event.
I would like to thank the Board of Trustee members here today who provide the guidance, broad focus and direction for the Institute. I am so appreciative of the support of the Board over the last four months and look forward to their continued support during my tenure as President.
I would like to thank Dr. Darrell Kirch for joining us today and providing the keynote address for the event. Knowing him for so long and having him give this address at my inauguration is very meaningful to me.
I would like to recognize the many visiting dignitaries and honored guests who join us today including my colleagues in the higher education community in New England and my colleagues from Partners HealthCare administration.
I am honored to be joined by many IHP faculty, staff and students who represent the heart and soul of this great academic program. They have welcomed me warmly into the IHP community and for that I am so appreciative. I am thrilled to share the stage with two former Institute presidents, President Emerita Ann Caldwell and President Emerita Janis Bellack.
Finally, I am grateful for the love and support of my family and friends without whom I would not be in this position today. Although my parents are no longer with us, my mother and father set this whole scenario in motion many years ago. They taught us to always do more than people expect of you, a lesson I know we have instilled in our own children. Joining me today to celebrate this important occasion are my sisters, Joanne and Pam and my brother John, and my cousins Judi and Louie and niece Jeanne. My friends Sally and Roger and Kay and Ernie are also here to celebrate with me today. I am lucky to have incredible children in JohnPaul and Jessica who have chosen loving and wonderful spouses in Liz and Chris. I am so proud of all four of them. And it goes without saying that my husband Joseph has been the wind beneath my wings for my whole career. He has given up so much so I could be standing here today, and I thank him for believing in me.
So, how did the daughter of a policeman and the owner of a driving school come to lead the MGH Institute of Health Professions? And what will be important to that daughter as she leads the IHP during the coming decade? As I have made the transition to this new role, I have reflected on the question: Why would I lead? I would like to use my time with you today as an opportunity to address three questions:
- What are the values I bring to leading the MGH Institute today?
- Why lead today?
- Why lead at the MGH Institute of Health Professions?
When I was young, my father, in addition to being a policeman, worked as a caterer and helped my mom with her driving school. They both worked all the time to make sure their children had a better life than they did. Education mattered to both but neither had the opportunity to attend college after high school. My father’s commitment to his family contributed to his postponing his own education. My father went to college as an adult and graduated from college on the same day I graduated from nursing school.
People mattered to my parents and so did community. I saw this in the way my father would contribute to the local charities with his time and his talents. He spent years on the library board which successfully fought for the expansion of our local public library. My mother’s business was the first woman-owned business to sponsor a little league baseball team in our hometown. Watching my parents, I saw that caring and leading were vehicles for community improvement. I chose that same pathway early on. First, I chose to become a nurse. Later, I chose to lead.
Early in my nursing career, I learned the value of hard work and the importance of a commitment to improve the lives of people around me. As I cared for patients in acute care settings, I was struck by the importance of understanding who the patients were beyond the hospital room. What did their life look like before it was interrupted by illness? Who relied on them, and how are those people managing their lives without assistance? After several years of working in a hospital, all of these questions brought me to the career choice of focusing on community health. In the community, I was able to work with my patients and families, one on one, with a full understanding of who they were and the impact of illness on their lives and the lives of their significant others. I was committed to improving the quality of their lives by helping them get well and stay well.
I am a graduate of Boston College, a great Jesuit university and our Boston neighbor. The Jesuits believe that the moral imperative to act is crystallized by the knowledge that action can make a difference. The moral imperative to act to make a positive difference has shaped my role as a professional nurse, as an educator, and as a leader.
Early in my career, together with a colleague from the School of Social Work, I co-developed a program to provide care to residents of the New Haven YMCA. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, and many of our clients were active drug users. While we didn’t know all we know today about HIV transmission and care, we did know that drug users were getting HIV from contaminated needles that they shared. We worked toward a collaborative model of care addressing the residents’ physical needs and conditions, providing assistance and support to improve their living conditions in an effort to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. This formative experience taught me the importance of providing care to people where they live. And I witnessed, for the first time, the power of interprofessional practice to make a difference for the people we serve and on each other as professionals. Making a difference was what mattered.
A commitment to knowing the people you are serving makes a profound difference in the care you provide. Patients need an advocate, as do students, faculty and staff. The public needs well-prepared health professionals, and the Institute has a long tradition of meeting that need. I lead to make a difference, a “true north” instilled in me by watching my parents and shaped by a Jesuit education.
Why Lead Today?
I have taken on this presidency at an interesting time in the history of higher education. The public has voiced a growing distrust of colleges and universities, questioning the value of higher education. What’s the return on investment? Will the graduates be employable? Does sustained support of higher education result in sustained public good?
I would submit that education, long believed to be the great equalizer and a force for social mobility, and especially higher education, has never been more important than it is today. Ours is a society characterized by divisiveness and growing incivility. The ability to think critically and create habits of the mind are essential to prepare students for engaging in democracy. Dialogue that extends understanding is not possible when people do not understand how to listen and engage. These are among the outcomes we expect from higher education today.
Higher education in the health professions must similarly address the social capabilities to understand, and work tirelessly to help build a civilized society that improves the conditions in which we live.
Why Lead at the MGH Institute?
As the President of the Institute, I see an opportunity to make that difference. Our extraordinary students, faculty, and staff are committed to making a difference and I want to help them in this journey. Leading the organization with integrity and in a manner that is consistent with the values I learned early in my life, and guided by the moral imperative of acting when action will make a difference, is what I bring to this role and to higher education.
The MGH IHP environment is uniquely poised to make a difference. As a graduate program in health professions education we are partially sheltered from the challenges facing higher education today. Health professionals enjoy a high level of trust and respect from the public. Our graduates are likely to be employed in a growing sector of our economy. Ours is a faculty, well-prepared to educate, to conduct research and to offer cutting-edge clinical care. Ours is a staff, committed to operational excellence. Ours is a diverse and talented student body, eager to take on the health care challenges of tomorrow.
Yet, some challenges to preparing health professionals exist regardless of the academic institution. How will we prepare our students for a world in which health care resources are not infinite? How can we prepare them to help define value and create rational, value-based policies that govern the delivery of health and design of systems for optimal care? How can we prepare students to be agents of change for the good of the people they serve? And like their counterparts in other institutions, our students face the challenges of understanding a complex world and identifying where they best fit into that world.
The country is facing the reality that our zip code has more to do with our health than almost any other variable. I am proud to be part of an academic institution that is working to change the picture of health care for all people. In my first four months, I have seen a real and impassioned concern for issues of social justice and health equity in the students, faculty, and staff of the Institute.
My Commitment to You
Over the course of my presidency I hope to model values that advance our reputation as an exemplary academic institution preparing the health care leaders of tomorrow. Here is my commitment to the IHP community:
- I commit to fostering an ethical community, grounded in the respect, dignity, justice and compassion for all of our members, enabling them to do their best work. I will be intentional in working toward improving the circumstances of all members of the IHP community and those which whom we interact with in the community at large. I recently was at a conference addressing social justice in health care. One of the speakers made a comment that resonated with me. She said, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.” I hope to model the values I hold in both my words and my actions, fostering a respectful, engaged and compassionate IHP community.
- I commit to fostering an environment of curiosity, innovation, and creativity in the improvement of health care and health care delivery. Health care providers are exceptionally good at creating “work arounds” as temporary fixes for challenges found in clinical practice. My goal is to build a culture of curiosity and innovation that excites our faculty and staff and prepares our students to be the innovators of the future. We intend to prepare graduates who will make permanent improvements in the delivery of care. We will foster an environment in which we create knowledge and translate that knowledge at the bedside, improving health and health care delivery. Our ability to shape health care and education through research and innovation will build our reputation as a leader in health professions education.
- I commit to sharing the inspiring stories and accomplishments of the people who make up the MGH Institute of Health Professions. Like the young woman who came to the IHP from Portugal to become a physical therapist so that she can return to Portugal to improve the lives of the children who suffer from physical disabilities. Or the faculty member who is deployed to the islands to help rebuild the community after the Hurricane Maria. Or the launch of the new Impact Practice Center which provides over a million dollars of no charge health care and rehabilitative services to the residents of Boston and the surrounding communities when their insurance will no longer support their continued rehabilitation. Ours is a narrative that must be told. We have a strong future because we have a rich past. Our Institute was founded by the Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the premier health care institutions in the world. Two physicians, Dr. John Knowles and Dr. Charles Sanders created the IHP 40 years ago with a vision that was far ahead of its time. Their goal was to educate health professionals collaboratively so that they would practice together when they graduated. Today, this is the goal of most health professional education programs; 40 years ago this idea was revolutionary. Our distinction as the only degree granting entity within Partners HealthCare, one of the largest and most influential health care delivery systems in the country, provides us with the platform to continue revolutionizing health professions education for the improvement of health care. We look forward to leveraging the full strength and reputation of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners Healthcare system in creating our future.
- I commit to respecting and honoring the legacy that Dr. Knowles and Dr. Sanders provided for us, and to build upon that legacy. Excellence in education with a cutting-edge interprofessional curriculum defines us. It is who we are. Although begun by Drs. Knowles and Sanders, the work of leading this institution has continued through the vision and tenacity of others, including some with us today. President Emerita Ann Caldwell brought the Institute back from the brink of closure and created a new home for our Institute campus in the Navy Yard. Her work provided the foundation for the future of the Institute. Over the last 10 years, President Emerita Jan Bellack grew the Institute and solidified our reputation as the leader in interprofessional graduate education for the health professions. The degree to which this could be accomplished was magnified because of her partnership with a visionary in health professions education, Dr. George Thibault. As Chair of the IHP Board for the past 10 years, Dr. Thibault has passionately advocated for improving health care through the development of health care providers who can communicate effectively and work in teams. He and President Emerita Bellack built the exemplary educational environment that I assume responsibility for today.
When I arrived here four months ago, I knew that I was coming to a place where there was a strong foundation for educational excellence, an engaged community of scholars, highly motivated and accomplished students, and a commitment to a respectful and caring community. You drew me in and called me to lead.
Building on our values and employing our strengths, we will continue to prepare future generations of health professionals who are poised to change the world. We will innovate in education, in the development of new knowledge and the application of that new knowledge in health care delivery, all within a supportive and nurturing community. Together, we will work to continue to make lasting differences that matter.
I am humbled to serve in the role of the sixth President of MGH Institute of Health Professions. I thank you for being a part of today’s ceremony and for your support of this great institution.