History of MGH Institute of Health Professions

MGH Institute of Health Professions was founded in 1977 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, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) had established one of the first schools of nursing—the Boston Training School for Nurses—based on the principles of Florence Nightingale. Over the years, it became the Massachusetts General Hospital Training School for Nurses and then 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 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. 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 curricula.

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

In the early 1970s, Dr. Charles A. Sanders, Dr. Knowles’ successor, along with Dr. Henry Mankin, chair of the MGH Committee on Teaching and Education, and John E. Lawrence, 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. Despite opposition from local colleges and universities to establishing a free-standing school governed by the hospital, MGH was awarded degree-granting authority by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1977. The school named its first leader and hired program directors in dietetics, nursing, physical therapy, and social work. MGH Institute of Health Professions officially opened in 1980, admitting its first master’s students in physical therapy and social work.

The Early Years

The Institute initially held classes in Ruth Sleeper Hall in the basement of MGH. In 1981, the first students enrolled in the dietetics program and the IHP held its first graduation, awarding four certificates in social work. In 1982, the first Master of Science in Nursing students were admitted. In 1983, the first degree, a Master of Science in Physical Therapy, was awarded, and the first director was hired for the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program.

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

The IHP continued to grow and change during the 1980s and 1990s. A faculty award for excellence in teaching was established and later named in honor of Nancy T. Watts, 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, and the speech-language pathology program was renamed the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. The Institute also moved from MGH into 101 Merrimac Street—the first-time faculty, staff, and students were together under one roof.

In 1994, Partners HealthCare was formed by Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the IHP became the new health provider’s only degree-granting affiliate. The following year, enrollment exceeded 500 students, the entry-level Master of Science in Physical Therapy program began, the dietetics program closed, and the nursing program revised its curriculum to prepare nurse practitioners. In 1996, the speech-language pathology program was awarded teacher certification by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

In 1997, Ann W. Caldwell became the Institute’s fourth president, and the first students were admitted into the Master of Science in Clinical Investigation program.

A Permanent Campus in the 21st Century

The Institute in 2000 found a permanent home to greet the 21st century when it purchased a former joiners building in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Named the Catherine Filene Shouse Building after the generous support from the Shouse Foundation, Building 36 was renovated into a state-of-the-art educational facility that opened in December 2001.

In 2001, the entry-level Master of Science in Physical Therapy was converted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Three years later, the first students enrolled in the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Medical Imaging.

In 2005, the first Distinguished Alumni Award was presented at the 25th Commencement, and alumnae from the MGH Nurses’ Alumnae Association began a yearly tradition of carrying the flag of the former Massachusetts General Hospital nursing school to symbolize the historical link between it and the MGH Institute’s School of Nursing.

In 2007, Janis P. Bellack, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANEF, was named the Institute’s fifth president. The school also launched the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

The IHP expanded from one to three buildings in its Navy Yard campus in 2008 to accommodate a rapidly growing student population. Alex F. Johnson, PhD, CCC-SLP, became the school’s first provost and vice president for academic affairs.

In 2009, the graduate programs in nursing were reorganized into a new School of Nursing to better reflect the size and scope of their academic offerings. The communication sciences and disorders, physical therapy, and medical imaging programs became part of a new School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and the clinical investigation program closed.

The Center for Interprofessional Studies and Innovation was created in 2011 to foster entrepreneurial activity, innovation, and collaboration between faculty and students in the Institute’s academic disciplines. Enrollment exceeded 1,100 students and the number of alumni passed the 4,000 mark.

In 2012, the Institute expanded into a fourth building, 2 Constitution Wharf (2CW), located adjacent to the U.S.S. Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides. The School of Nursing added a second admission cycle to the BSN program to meet rising demand, PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences and a Master of Science in Health Professions Education programs began, and the medical imaging program closed.

New England’s first entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy program began in 2014, and the IHP expanded into a sixth building, creating the Center for Health & Rehabilitation Research to accommodate its expanding roster of full-time faculty researchers.

In 2015, the Institute expanded into its seventh building to create the Janis P. Bellack Library and Study Commons, bringing the campus footprint to nearly 140,000 square feet—almost triple the amount of space in 2007. The Master of Physician Assistant Studies program began, enrollment surpassed 1,500 students.

In 2016, the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program graduated its first two students, the first honorary degrees were awarded, and the number of alumni grew to more than 6,000.

During the school’s 40th anniversary year in 2017, Paula Milone-Nuzzo, PhD, RN, FHHC, FAAN, became the MGH Institute’s sixth president. The Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Master of Physician Assistant Studies programs graduated their first cohort of students, helping to push the number of alumni to over 7,000. The IHP also launched the Charles A. and Ann Sanders IMPACT Practice Center on the first floor of 2CW, a 15,000-square-foot interprofessional education facility that houses all the Institute’s client-care centers, where students under faculty supervision annually provide more than $1 million of free care to area residents.

In 2018, the IHP launched the Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Health, the first nurse-led initiative to combat the effects of global warming. Enrollment reached the 1,600-student mark.

The Institute expanded its educational offerings in 2019 when it launched three new degrees: a PhD in Health Professions Education, a Master of Science in Genetic Counseling, and a post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy. The school created a new Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and hired its first director. A student was chosen to deliver the keynote address at Commencement for the first time in the school’s 42-year history.

In March 2020, the IHP shifted to a fully remote operation in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Classroom and hands-on education pivoted to virtual platforms during the largest health crisis in a century. A series of innovations allowed most students to graduate on time, while the 40th Commencement ceremony was moved from May to August and changed to a virtual event to accommodate shifting health restrictions.

The IHP community returned to campus in 2021, albeit with masks and other safeguards, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to subside although Commencement again was held virtually. The school launched New England’s first clinical Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology program, and the total grant portfolio passed the $25 million mark for the first time in its history.

In 2022, Commencement was held in person for the first time in three years. The more than 600 graduates included the first to complete the PhD in Health Professions Education and post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs and pushed the number of alumni to over 10,000. The School of Healthcare Leadership was created, with new master’s degrees in Data Analytics and Health Administration launched. The Tedy’s Team Foundation, started by former New England Patriot great Tedy Bruschi and his wife, Heidi, donated $1 million to create the Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation.