When the MGH Institute decided a decade ago to embark on creating an authentic research enterprise, its total grant portfolio sat at a modest $750,000. While some faculty did focus on research, the school lacked a comprehensive research program that could complement its excellent reputation in educating health care professionals.

“Research had always been part of the Institute’s mission, but it had never been part of its focus,” says Dr. Robert Hillman, an internationally renowned voice researcher who has held several faculty and administrative roles at the IHP over the past 25 years.

A report submitted by an advisory panel led by former Trustee Dr. John Guttag changed that, stating in no uncertain terms that the Institute’s long-term viability would be greatly enhanced by making research an integral part of its operations. With the school being located in Boston, one of the world’s largest and most renowned research centers, its leaders knew competing head-on with such powerhouses as Harvard and MIT didn’t make sense. Instead, they decided to concentrate on a topic that already was integral to its core mission—rehabilitation. To do so, the school would have to attract established researchers to jump start the initiative. The report also recommended establishing a PhD program in rehabilitation sciences to enhance the school’s research culture, provide senior researchers with the support needed to bolster their work, and prepare a new generation of investigators.

Together with enhancing nursing research, the initiative would focus on the types of conditions where there are major lingering questions that could only be answered by skilled researchers in the school’s existing disciplines, such as the recovery of abilities lost through accident, disease, or injury. It also would identify tools and treatments to allow patients to function at their full potential in society—answering questions that few investigators were asking.

A decade after the Board of Trustees signed off on the report’s recommendations, the school has made tremendous progress. In January, the Institute passed the $20 million mark in its total grant portfolio, an amazing 2,500% increase. There are now several full-time senior researchers, with plans to add more. The number of active grants has increased 18-fold, from two to 36. More than 50 PhD students and postdocs have been trained by 25 active researchers. Accepted publications and conference presentations by the full-time faculty have increased exponentially.

For Hillman, who was the inaugural associate provost for research and just recently stepped down as director of the PhD program, the results have surpassed even the most optimistic projections: “It’s become larger more quickly than we had hoped,” he says.

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Dr. Nara Gavini focuses on managing and advancing the IHP’s research and scholarship programs.