The Emerging Leader Award, created in 2010, recognizes the accomplishments of an alumnus who has graduated within the past ten years, demonstrated outstanding leadership in the health professions, and made significant contributions to their professional discipline and healthcare.

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2024 Recipient

sara wears graduation attire and holds a crystal award
2024 Emerging Leader Alumni Award Recipient Sarah Peifer at commencement with MGH IHP President Paula Milone-Nuzzo

Dr. Sarah Peifer earned her BS from Cornell University, BSN and MS-NU from MGH IHP, and Doctor of Nursing practice from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

During her seven-year tenure at South Shore Health, Peifer has demonstrated leadership and expertise, notably as the Lead Emergency Department Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.  Recently, she was promoted to Director of Psychiatric Advanced Practice Clinicians. In this role, she will collaborate with organizational leaders to drive the strategic growth of the Emergency Department and the inpatient APC Program.

An accomplishment of Dr. Peifer’s is the implementation of the HEADS-ED tool in 2021, which has significantly reduced pediatric boarding times. In addition, as a subject matter expert in behavioral health innovations emergency care, she has influenced national standards for ED behavioral health care data metrics.

Past Recipients

2023: Valerie Rucker-Bussie, DPT '18

Dr. Valerie Rucker-Bussie graduated from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in 2018. She works at Capitol Physical Therapy in Washington, DC and is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Physical Therapy Department, where she teaches courses that cover topics such as teaching and learning, health equity, community engagement, and social determinants of health. She became a Board Certified Neurologic Specialist in 2020, and she primarily treats vestibular disorders, post stroke, brain injury, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, and neuropathies. She also has training in treating chronic pain and helped develop an integrative medical team of physicians, psychologists, and therapists that provided comprehensive services to patients with chronic pain. Most recently, she began treating the pelvic floor for individuals dealing with incontinence, constipation, prolapse, diastasis recti, and pelvic pain.

Her passion projects include efforts related to population health and health equity. She also owns her own practice called Priority One Wellness, through which she provides physical therapy, Reiki, and yoga in a holistic approach to wellness and health care for preventative and restorative healing. She believes in the power of healing touch and enjoys helping people find their joy and freedom in movement.

She is dedicated to reducing health disparities and inequities in her community. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the APTA District of Columbia Chapter’s Health Equity and Anti-Racism Team, which is a role she continues today. Valerie is dedicated to disseminating research as well.  She is a co-author on the manuscript Embedding Population Health in Physical Therapist Professional Education for the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal.  Valerie’s leadership potential was recognized in 2021 when she was named an APTA Centennial Scholar.

2022: Harrison Keyes, MPAS '18

Harrison Keyes graduated from the Institute in 2018 with a Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies degree.  His path to health care began with a biology degree from the University of Vermont in 2013, which was followed by working at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates as a medical assistant.  In 2015, Harrison was promoted to Clinical Team Support Lead in Primary Care.   Alongside his clinical work, Harrison volunteered as an adaptive ski instructor / trainer for the New England Disability Sports Program; an activity which he started when he was thirteen years old and continues today.  It was the combination of his clinical and volunteer work that helped Harrison realize that a career as a physician assistant would also fulfill his desire to help others.  In 2016, Harrison started at the IHP.  As a student, Harrison squeezed in time during his rigorous program to work as the Crimson Care Collaborative Umbrella Staffing Director and Site Director at Crimson Care Collaborative – Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) as well as serve as a student delegate to the American Academy of Physicians Associates (AAPA) House of Delegates.   Post-graduation, Harrison was hired by BHCHP as a physician assistant in their medical respite program. A move to outpatient primary care at Southampton Men's Shelter and Jean Yawkey Place occurred the following year. In 2020, Harrison was named the Medical Director for the COVID testing team in response to COVID-19.  A position he held until 2022.  These days, you will most likely find Harrison at Jean Yawkey Place in his role as Interim Medical Director, continuing his advocacy work as a Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants AAPA Delegate, or on the slopes helping disabled individuals achieve their dreams.


2021: Tesiah Coleman, MS '19, AGPCNP-BC, WHNP-BC, CLC

Tesiah Coleman graduated from the Institute in 2019 with a Master’s in Nursing degree. Dedicated to equity and social justice, Tesiah is currently working at an innovative clinic for women of color that prioritizes making interdisciplinary and holistic care accessible via telehealth and through an online platform. While she was a student, Tesiah advocated academically, socially and within her research studies for marginalized communities and communities of color at the Institute. Following graduation, Tesiah analyzed and synthesized the data she gathered at the Institute to name and address structural, institutional and societal racism. Her findings resulted in a paper published in Educational Innovations entitled, “Anti-Racism in Nursing Education: Recommendations for Racial Justice Praxis.” This paper provides a six-sided approach to addressing racism within a higher education program focused on training healthcare professionals. Her work is not only grounded within research, but it is based on praxis that was implemented due to her own initiatives or through close observation as a student on campus.


2020: Jinesh Gandhi, MSPT '14

Jinesh Gandhi graduated from The Institute in 2014 with a Master’s in Physical Therapy degree. Post-graduation he achieved Specialist Certification in Orthopedics through the American Physical Therapy Association. In 2016, he became certified in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) through the McKenzie lnstitute. Professionally, Gandhi is the Patient Care Manager at NovaCare Rehabilitation in Dover, Delaware. When not treating his own patients, Jinesh is a supervisor to physical therapy assistant students from Delaware Technical Community College.


2019: Jarrad Van Stan, PhD '16, CCC-SLP

Jarrad Van Stan, PhD '16, CCC-SLP, was in the first class of graduates of the MGH Institute’s PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program. Dr. Van Stan, who is a speech-language pathologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, is seen as a national leader in voice disorders based on his significant contributions in the development of classification systems (taxonomies) for classifying rehabilitation treatments and the application of motor learning theory and principles to the design of new voice therapy approaches.


2018: Kenya Palmer, MSN '13, FNP-BC, CSCS

Kenya Palmer, MSN ’13, FNP-BC, CSCS, received the Emerging Leader Alumni Award. A nurse practitioner at Boston Medical Center, Palmer works in the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition and Weight Management where she uses her 14 years of experience as a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach to address obesity with her patients, especially those from underserved populations.


2017: Kelly Brush Davisson, MS '13, APRN, RN

A debilitating ski injury did not deter Kelly Brush Davisson from helping others. In some ways, it accelerated her mission to make a difference in the world.

A gifted athlete, Davisson was paralyzed from the waist down in a tragic accident in 2006 while competing for the Middlebury College ski team. She and her family responded by creating the non-profit Kelly Brush Foundation, which has helped hundreds of individuals living with paralysis discover the benefits of sports and recreation, and has improved ski racing safety for thousands.

For her work, Sports Illustrated bestowed its highest honor on Davisson and her foundation in 2012 in its “10 Who Care” series. She also received a prestigious National Collegiate Athletic Association Inspiration Award.

Today, she is president of the foundation’s board of directors, is a pediatric nurse practitioner in her native Vermont, and continues her active lifestyle – including recently skiing Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington, an impressive feat for any skier. She also was one of the Institute's Forty for 40 recipients chosen in 2017 in conjunction with the IHP's 40th anniversary.


2016: Katie Barron, NS '08, Recognized for Efforts in Halting Ebola Outbreak

Katie Barron played a key role in halting the Ebola outbreak as Director of Nursing in Sierra Leone for the non-profit Partners In Health.

After graduating from the MGH Institute in 2008, she worked as a nurse practitioner at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, where she created and managed several innovative programs to serve this vulnerable population.

In 2010, Barron joined MGH Infectious Diseases unit as a nurse practitioner. Immediately recognized for her leadership skills, she was asked to also take on the role of Nurse Manager for the busy outpatient unit. Notably, she continued to give back to the IHP during her time at MGH, serving as a clinical preceptor for many students.

Since December 2014, Barron has worked in Sierra Leone, the African country hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic. She served as the organization’s lead clinician for the entire country and was in charge of the training, deployment, and implementation of clinical care there. Advocating for quality and accessible care during a humanitarian emergency is challenging under any circumstances, but the overwhelming risk to health care workers added a level of unparalleled responsibility. Thanks in large part to Katie’s efforts, all clinical staff who worked to treat Ebola patients are now healthy, and the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has abated.

“Katie’s leadership style coalesces compassion, consistency and tenacity,” says Sheila Davis, the director of Ebola Response for PIH and who earned her masters and doctorate degrees from the Institute. “She has interacted with leaders from all over the world and represented PIH in our partnerships with the United Nations, World Health Organization, United Kingdom military, and the government of Sierra Leone. It is rare for a young professional to have this level of responsibility and impact during a global emergency.”


2015 Recipient: Amanda Hitchins, CSD '12, MS, CCC-SLP

Amanda Hitchins was considered a star both clinically and academically during her time at the Institute. But since graduating from MGH Institute of Health Professions in 2012 with a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology, Amanda has made a huge difference to people halfway around the world.

For her efforts, she was presented the 2015 Emerging Leader Alumni Award from the Boston health sciences graduate school.

Building upon previous work she conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo as an undergraduate student, Hitchins, MS, CCC-SLP, became determined to solve a problem that seems incompressible to many – the entire country had just one certified audiologist, meaning that services were almost impossible to get. 

Hitchins made a connection with the director of the only residential school that served developmentally and physically challenged students. She decided that it would be her mission to help build and equip the first soundproof auditory testing room in this section of the DRC.

To do this, she sold homemade greetings cards, received funds from family and friends, and also reached out to the MGH Institute’s National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Club. Together they raised over $2,000; this relatively small amount was enough to replace a boom closer with a fully functioning audiology booth. Now the hearing of children and adults can be accurately tested, giving hope to many that their hearing difficulties can be properly diagnosed, and hopefully be improved.

Not content with building the soundproof room, Hitchins provided speech and language services to children who had previously never been tested or treated. This included children who had cleft lip/palate, intellectual disabilities, and other problems, after which she set up remedial programs that the school’s staff could implement.

Her next goal is to create a not-for-profit enterprise to continue her fundraising endeavors and generate more funds to continue the work she started in the DRC.

“Amanda is one of the most gifted and compassionate people I have had the pleasure to work with,” said Department of Communication and Sciences Chair Gregory Lof, PhD, CCC-SLP. “Her dedication and leadership in this endeavor is astonishing. When I reviewed the criteria for this award, I think they were written specifically for Amanda.”


2014 Recipient: Nicole Silva, CSD '11, MS, CCC-SLP

Since graduating from MGH Institute of Health Professions in 2011 with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, Nicole Silva has been a leader at Hartford Hospital in improving treatment for patients who have communication and swallowing disorders,

For her efforts, she was presented the 2014 Emerging Leader Alumni Award from the Boston health sciences graduate school.

Silva, a speech-language pathologist at the Connecticut hospital, collaborated with physicians and respiratory therapists to create a tracheostomy team that has improved patient care through better communication and coordination among all health care professionals.

She also co-developed the first-of-its-kind disposable pressure measurement device which more accurately measures and tracks the progress of patients with a tracheostomy tube. The Pylant-Silva Manometer, which she designed with respiratory care medical team coordinator Rogers Pylant, helps therapists identify when a patient should use a speaking valve, which allows patients to communicate sooner and more effectively with loved ones and health professionals, has led to improved swallowing function, and has improved both patient functioning and satisfaction while also reducing infection rates and costs.

Silva, who has presented her findings at national conferences, and her team are conducting research to further evaluate its effectiveness. She also has led efforts to educate hospital staff on oral care and safe feeding of patients with swallowing disorders, and has collaborated with the nursing team to develop and incorporate new guidelines for oral care in patient care plans. “Nicole continues to demonstrate an eagerness to promote evidence-based practice through her quest for knowledge and her passion for teaching others,” said speech-language pathologist Rachel Slater, who was a mentor to Silva at Harford Hospital. “Her initiative and drive to improve care for all patients is a unique quality that further exemplifies Nicole’s passion for health care.”


2013 Recipient: J. Aleah Nesteby, MS '07, RN, FNP

Since graduating with a Master of Science in Nursing from the School of Nursing in 2007, J. Aleah Nesteby has focused on advocating for transgender patients.

During her first year of practice as a nurse practitioner at Baystate High Street Health Center in Springfield, her concern for the barriers facing transgender patients in accessing compassionate and respectful care led her to design and implement a transgender health clinic that now draws patients from all over the country. “Aleah made it her mission to build from scratch a successful transgender clinic not only for our patients but as a means to educate our medical, nurse practitioner, and physician assistant staff and students,” noted Center Director Michael Rosenblum, MD, FACP.

Nesteby also sought and obtained two competitive grants to support staff education in transgender health care and disseminate information and educational materials on the topic to extend the reach to other communities. “Aleah’s vision and leadership have been extraordinary, her inclusivity admirable, and her impact on patients and the community broad,” said Katie Seamon ’12, RN, MS, who has worked with Nesteby at Baystate since graduating.


2012 Recipient: Jessica Gosnell Caron, CSD '07, MS CCC-SLP

Since graduating in 2007, Jessica Gosnell Caron has established a niche in augmentative and alternative communication, a rapidly changing area of practice at the forefront of a technological revolution in speech-language pathology. She has been a leader in incorporating mobile applications for smart devices like iPhones and iPads that give patients with language disorders a new method of communication that greatly improves their quality of life.

This cutting-edge work has garnered frequent invitations to speak both nationally and internationally, and she has published her work in the professional literature. Since 2008, Jessica has worked at Children’s Hospital’s Center for Communication Enhancement. As the author of one of her letters of support so aptly stated, “Jessica truly represents the Institute’s core values of embracing inquiry, ingenuity, innovation, resourcefulness, and continuous learning. There are no limits to what she will be able to accomplish in the future, and I expect more great things to come.”


2011 Recipient: Theresa McDonnell, MS-Nursing '05, RN

Theresa McDonnell is director of nursing at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center Yawkey Outpatient Clinic, where she leads a staff of 84 nurse practitioners, Registered Nurses, and technical assistants. She oversees the daily operations of 22 disease centers with 16 multidisciplinary clinics that see approximately 450 patients daily.

She also works at the Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers as an acute care nurse practitioner, and is the director of the weekend NP on-call program where she directs a team of 12 NPs who provide weekend first-responder coverage for the MGH Cancer Center.

McDonnell began working at Mass General in 2003, beginning as a patient care assistant before becoming a staff nurse on Ellison 14, an inpatient oncology floor. It was there that she saw how she could make the unit more efficient and collaborative, successfully advocating to add an inpatient nurse practitioner to the unit. She was so persuasive that she was hired to fill this new position. Since then, she has increased continuity of care and decreased patient length of stay, thus contributing to improvements in the quality of care for cancer patients and their families.  

According to her nomination letter from a classmate and colleague, “Terry truly knows her patients, cares deeply about them and can be as fierce as a mother tiger when it comes to their advocacy. From creating her own ideal NP job while still an RN, to becoming a role model in practice as an inpatient NP, to taking the reins of a world-renowned cancer treatment center, she makes me so incredibly proud to say ‘we graduated from the IHP together.’ ”


2010 Recipient: Susan Lax, MS-Nursing '04, RN

Susan Lax, who graduated from the Direct Entry Nursing program, is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at a private practice in Cambridge where she specializes in treatment of individuals and families with trauma-related disorders.

Susan has devoted much of her career to studying and integrating non-traditional treatment modalities of nutrition, sleep, and exercise with traditional psychotherapy and medication. She has established herself as an innovative and successful leader in caring for people with severe and chronic mental illness, achieving remarkable results with those she treats, including dramatic reductions in hospital length of stay so they may return to their homes and communities.

Susan's nominator especially noted her political advocacy on behalf of mental health care, and her “absolute commitment to excellence.”