The day in January 2003 when I became president of Massachusetts General Hospital was one of the most humbling and meaningful days of my life. The opportunity to lead an institution that I loved, respected, and revered was momentous—almost surreal. Mass General was, after all, where my family had received care for almost 100 years and where I discovered the joy of medicine, the privilege of caring for patients and families. It was the place that had supported me in my career and encouraged me to challenge myself. It was here I learned to rely on and lead with instinct, conscience and heart. The idea that I had been entrusted to guide this remarkable institution into the future was profound.
Today, more than 18 years later, I am feeling a similar sense of deep emotion as I tell my beloved Mass General family that I have decided to step down as president. This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. After months of both reflecting and looking ahead, I have concluded there will never be a right time to leave. Yet this particular moment in the arc of this storied institution feels like a crossroads of sorts. We’re emerging from the depths of a pandemic, we’re rethinking the way we work, we’re re—aligning into a true integrated health care system, we’re planning a magnificent new building, and we’re about to launch a bold comprehensive fundraising campaign. Now seems like a fitting point in time to call upon a new captain for the ship, someone with new energy and new ideas, who can ably steer this great hospital forward into a bright and promising future as an anchor of Mass General Brigham.
I have informed Jonathan Kraft, chair of the Mass General Board of Trustees, and Anne Klibanski, MD, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham, of my intentions, and Anne will be initiating a search for a new Mass General president. They have asked me if I would remain in this role until my successor is in place, and I have agreed.
I feel so privileged to have been part of this wondrous place for nearly four decades. Mass General has always been a leader in advancing medicine and health care for the region, nation and world. Yet it is also a place that has held fast to its simple founding principles. “When in distress, every man becomes our neighbor” was the rallying cry penned by our founders in 1810. That sentiment has endured for more than two centuries, a steady omnipresent whisper throughout this organization. All those who have walked these halls have upheld this covenant to our patients, the community and one another. Perhaps it’s this unequivocal sense of purpose, this calling, that has made our hospital so special – there is something in the ether.
Thinking back over nearly two decades of my tenure as president stirs so many proud moments when we celebrated the accomplishments of our staff and hospital. Among the highlights are Jack Szostak, PhD, winning the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; Mass General twice being ranked the #1 hospital in the nation by US News & World Report; and earning the highest national awards for community health and equity—the 2011 AAMC Spencer Foreman Award, the 2015 AHA Foster McGaw Award, and the inaugural AHA Equity of Care Award in 2014.
I remember the thrill in 2003 when Mass General became the first hospital in the state to receive Magnet recognition. We opened the Yawkey and Simches buildings in 2004, the Lunder Building in 2011, and the Russell Museum in 2012. We established the Ragon Institute in Cambridge in 2009, the same year we launched the Home Base program and the Lurie Center for Autism. We opened ambulatory centers in Danvers and Waltham, and we welcomed Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Cottage, Cooley Dickinson, and Wentworth—Douglass hospitals into the Mass General family.
There were also some immensely painful times, including my first few months as president, when tragedies took the lives of Buildings and Grounds employee Ricardo Diaz, ironworker Christopher MacInnis, and Mass General cardiologist Brian McGovern, MD. Mass General staff cared for some of the most severely burned patients from the Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, and 10 years later this hospital was called upon when the Boston Marathon bombings shook this city and nation. We have seen that sense of support and purpose again and again, including this past year, when our staff drew upon the combination of grit, ingenuity and heart as they courageously marched into battle against COVID—19. My proudest moments as president, in fact, were not necessarily in the best of times, but rather in the worst, when extraordinary people throughout our hospital were tested their hardest and shined their brightest.
I can think of no higher honor than to have been one who has walked these halls, who has contributed but a tiny thread to the rich and vibrant fabric of this place. I have been humbled to stand shoulder to shoulder with the thousands of women and men – with all of you – who work so hard to make Mass General such a hallowed temple of healing.
With all my heart, thank you.
— Peter L. Slavin, MD