History of MGH Institute of Health Professions


MGH Institute of Health Professions was founded to address the need for master clinicians, leaders in the health care professions molded by the integration of theory and clinical practice in an interprofessional environment.

In 1873, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) established one of the first schools of nursing – the Boston Training School for Nurses – based on the principles of Florence Nightingale, which became the Massachusetts General Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1896, and later the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing. By the time this diploma school closed in 1981, it was the oldest continuously operating school of nursing in the United States and was the predecessor to the MGH Institute’s School of Nursing.

Since many health care professions evolved from hospital-based needs, the MGH Institute’s educational programs initially developed through on-site clinical training activities. The shift from hospital-based to college and university-based education for health sciences raised several issues, including lack of integration between clinical and didactic aspects of health care curriculum.

Ruth Sleeper, Director of the MGH School of Nursing from 1946 to 1966, recognized the implications of these changes in nursing education and in 1964 promoted the idea of a free-standing, degree-granting institution affiliated with MGH. In the late 1960s, Dr. John Hilton Knowles, then MGH General Director, expanded the idea to include all non-physician education programs for health care professionals and proposed establishing an “MGH University,” which would offer hospital-based, advanced level training programs.

Creating a New School

In the early 1970s, Dr. Charles A. Sanders, Knowles’ successor, along with Dr. Henry Mankin, Chair of the MGH Committee on Teaching and Education, and John E. Lawrence, then Chair of the MGH Board of Trustees, pursued the idea of creating an affiliated graduate degree school.

In 1975, a petition to grant degrees was submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. A public hearing was held, at which local colleges and universities voiced opposition to the establishment of a free-standing school governed by the hospital.

In 1977, Massachusetts General Hospital was awarded degree-granting authority by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The first Provost as well as program directors in dietetics, nursing, physical therapy, and social work were hired. MGH Institute of Health Professions officially opened in 1980, admitting its first students in physical therapy and social work.

The Early Years

In 1980, the first students enrolled in the dietetics program, and the Institute held its first graduation, awarding four certificates in social work. In 1982, the first nursing students were admitted, and in 1983 the first degree, a Master of Science, was awarded in physical therapy. That year the Institute also began a new speech-language pathology graduate program.

In 1985, the MGH Institute was incorporated with an independent Board of Trustees, hired its first President, and received initial accreditation from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

Change through the 1990s

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the MGH Institute continued to grow and change. A faculty award for excellence in teaching was established and later named in honor of Nancy T. Watts, Professor Emerita, a nationally prominent physical therapist and educator who was instrumental in the Institute’s founding. The nursing program achieved specialized accreditation, the social work program closed, students enrolled in the speech-language pathology program and the speech-language pathology program’s academic department was renamed Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). The Institute also moved to 101 Merrimac Street – the first time faculty, staff and students were all together under one roof.

By 1994, when Partners HealthCare was formed by the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the MGH Institute’s enrollment had reached 500 students. The following year, the entry-level physical therapy program began, the dietetics program closed, and the nursing program revised its curriculum to prepare nurse practitioners. In 1996, the Institute added a program in clinical investigation, and the speech-language pathology program was awarded teacher certification by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

In 1997, an Alumni Association was established, the first students were admitted to the clinical investigation program, and the speech-language pathology program and the physical therapy programs gained accreditation by their respective specialized accrediting agencies. In 1998, the Institute graduated its 1,000th alumnus, and in 1999, the Institute began offering courses online.

A New Campus at Dawn of 21st Century

In 2000, the Institute purchased a former joiners building in the Charlestown Navy Yard, giving the school a permanent home for the first time. A $2 million gift from the Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation renovated Building 36 into a state-of-the-art educational facility.

In December 2001, the Institute moved into the newly renamed Catherine Filene Shouse Building. The school also converted its entry-level Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).

In June of 2002, the Institute celebrated its 25th anniversary and formally dedicated the Shouse Building. Authority to grant a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Medical Imaging was achieved in 2003, with the first students enrolling in the program in the fall of 2004.

The 2004 Commencement activities were expanded to include an Honors Convocation. A nursing honor society was founded, and four years later was inducted as Upsilon Lambda chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International. With a grant from the MGH Nurses’ Alumnae Association, the former MGH School of Nursing’s archives were permanently relocated to a new, climate-controlled space on campus.

In 2005, a Distinguished Alumni Award was established. The first recipient was honored at the 25th Commencement, which featured an academic procession with alumni from each of the preceding 24 years carrying their respective class flag. Alumni were led by a representative from the MGH Nurses’ Alumnae Association, carrying the flag of the MGH School of Nursing which symbolized the historical link between the School of Nursing and the Institute’s nursing program.

In 2006, the Distinguished Alumni Award was renamed in honor of Bette Ann Harris '83, the Institute’s first degree recipient.

Academic and Campus Expansion Begins

In 2007, Janis P. Bellack, PhD, RN, FAAN, became the Institute’s fifth President, and the first annual Gala was held to generate additional scholarship funds to support students. The nursing program accepted its first students into a new Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program, and began offering one of the country’s first Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs.

In 2008, Alex F. Johnson, PhD, CCC-SLP, became Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The Institute also expanded its physical space to two additional locations in the Navy Yard (Buildings 34 and 39) as enrollment reached 900 students.

In 2009, the Graduate Programs in Nursing were designated a School of Nursing to better reflect the size and scope of its academic offerings. The speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and medical imaging programs were reorganized under the umbrella of a new School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and the clinical investigation program graduated its last students.

In 2010, the Institute consolidated Commencement activities into one day and moved the event to the Hynes Convention Center. The Emerging Leader Alumni Award was created for individuals who graduated less than 10 years ago.

In 2011, the school received continuing accreditation for a period of ten years by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The Center for Interprofessional Studies and Innovation (CIPSI) was created to foster entrepreneurial activity, innovation, and collaboration between faculty and students in the Institute’s academic disciplines. Enrollment exceeded 1,100 for the first time, while the number of alumni passed the 4,000 mark.

In 2012, the Institute marked the 35th anniversary of its 1977 founding. It expanded into a fourth building at 2 Constitution Center, located just outside the Navy Yard and within yards of the U.S.S. Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides. The School of Nursing added a second admission cycle to the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to meet rising demand. The Institute received approval to offer a PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences and enrolled the first five students. It also enrolled the first class in a new Master of Science in Health Professions Education program, and the medical imaging program graduated its last students.

In 2013, two additional programs were approved: New England’s first entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy, which began in 2014 and a Master of Physician Assistant Studies, which began in 2015. The school also expanded into two new buildings, giving it a total of 130,000 square feet in six buildings. The expansion included 14,000 square feet in the new Center for Health & Rehabilitation Research in Building 79/96 to accommodate faculty researchers who are leading the Institute’s growing focus on research, with research funding surpassing the $2 million for the first time in its history.

In May 2015 the Institute expands into Building 38 to create the new Library and Study Commons, adding 9,000 square feet. This dedicated library and study space is on the top floor of Building 38, behind the building that houses the Office of Student Affairs. With this addition the Institute has more than 139,000 square feet spanning seven buildings.

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