The Innovative Hospital

MMassachusetts_General_Hospital_logo.svgassachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has been a hub of medical innovation since its earliest days. When the hospital was chartered in 1811 it became only the third general hospital in the United States. In the two centuries since, it has become a globally recognized medical institution, contributing life-saving advancements, and bringing pride to Massachusetts. Mass General Hospital is considered the #1 hospital in the United States by U.S. News and World Report.

In October of 1846, William Thomas Green Morton, a Boston-based dentist, oversaw the first public demonstration of a surgery under anesthesia using ether. Unbeknownst to Morton, a Georgia physician named Crawford W. Long had begun using the same method to conduct minor operations, but had never published his findings. Following Morton’s demonstration, John Collins Warren, one of the founders of MGH and the first Dean of Harvard Medical School, removed a tumor from a patient in the Massachusetts General surgical amphitheater. The demonstrations eventually pushed the use of anesthesia into the mainstream, forever altering the way that surgeries are performed around the world. As a historic remembrance, the surgical amphitheater was renamed the “Ether Dome”.  Today, a silhouette of the dome serves as the hospital’s official logo.


Painting of MGH co-founder John Warren removing a tumor in the Ether Dome

A few decades later, in 1886, the hospital further cemented its reputation when Reginald Fitz, a graduate of MGH affiliate Harvard Medical School and a long-time professor, identified appendicitis for the first time. Fitz’s published work on the subject, “Perforating Inflammation of the Vermiform Appendix; With Special Reference to Its Early Diagnosis and Treatment” analyzed 466 individual cases of previously misdiagnosed abdominal complications showing that all were actually connected to the appendix. His discovery allowed doctors to focus in on the real issue and brought about treatment methods that are now considered routine, saving untold numbers of lives in the process.

In the early 20th century, two MGH employees dared to push the hospital beyond treating physical ailments alone. Dr. Richard Cabot, a senior physician, hired Ida Maude Cannon, a trained nurse and social worker to establish the first medical social service within a hospital.  According to Cannon, Cabot “was presenting the idea of social service within the hospital where sick patients, although separated from their home and families, nevertheless cannot separate themselves from their personal problems.” In the earliest days, the program focused on everything from patients suffering from tuberculosis to helping children recovering from orthopedic problems. Today the clinic is an integral part of MGH’s function, focusing on mental health and counseling.

MGH continues to be on the frontlines of medical innovations. In 1998, the hospital founded the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. The Center provides an avenue for doctors, scientists, and engineers to collaborate on the “development and implementation of innovative technologies.” The Center has developed consortium partnerships with 12 other hospitals in the Boston-area, ensuring the broadest collaboration possible.

The great work at MGH is a beacon of pride for Massachusetts. If you’re a Massachusetts high school student, your research on stories like this could win you $5,000 for yourself and $1,000 for your school. Time is running out to enter the 3rd Annual Frederick Douglass U.S. History Essay Contest.

Go to to find out more and be sure to submit before March 7th!

About the author

Jordan is a Fellow at the Pioneer Institute, an alumnus of Penn State University, and a graduate student at Harvard University.

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