October 6, 2004
Lessons of Mayo Clinic
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
ROCHESTER, MN -- Glossy in-company
magazines don't usually grab my attention, but these two sentences
from the winter issue of Mayo Magazine were relevant
column and stopped me dead in my tracks: "Our work at Mayo is
becoming more technical all the time. How do we keep a humanistic focus?"
It struck me that right here in our community is an institution that's
grappling, in practical terms, with the greatest question that faces
But what really got me is where Mayo sends a group of 10 employees and
their spouses every year to seek answers to this question: to the hills
of Assisi, in central Italy, where St. Francis spent his life serving
the poor and the sick and, legends says, attracting every kind of animal
-- from starving wolves to half-frozen bees -- which come to him for
food and shelter.
the beginning, Mayo Clinic has seemed instinctively to know
that a great part of the world's wisdom -- probably its greater
part -- lies
in the world beyond our nation's borders. Will and Charlie
Mayo, the clinic's founders, made 40 trips to Europe and South
America during their
career. And these were the days when it took a week on
an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic. The commitment to internationalism
The next-best thing to traveling the world was inviting foreign doctors
and medical scholars to visit Rochester to teach, and sometimes to join,
the Mayo staff. A steady stream of international visitors is part of
Mayo Clinic's DNA.
A Mayo brat myself, while growing up I met visitors from Russia, Czechoslovakia,
Greece, Mexico, France, Japan, China, the Philippines and a dozen other
places. I grew up feeling like a citizen of the world.
It's not something touchy-feely that I'm talking about here. It's something
practical. The fact that Rochester has thrived through many economic
ups and downs, including the Great Depression, means there was something
in Will and Charlie's early insistence that Mayo Clinic would have an
international character that has been critical to its success.
As a 2002 report published
by the University of Ohio concluded, Mayo Clinic has been central in
making Olmsted County "an economic jewel
rising from the prairie lands of southeastern Minnesota."
Why? Its "knowledge-based economy" that largely traces to
Mayo Clinic, the report said, "places southeast Minnesota in a key
strategic position for the 21st century."
Just last week, the clinic said that its new tissue and blood testing
laboratory on Superior Drive will match, and probably surpass, the number
of employees who worked in the building when it was owned by Celestica,
a high-tech company that laid off 700 employees. Many of those blood
and tissues samples flown in daily are from hospitals and clinics overseas.
Ultimately, those are potentially much bigger markets than even America's
enormous markets. To be linked to them now, and to grow as they grow,
helps to ensure Mayo's -- and Rochester's -- long-term success.
Mayo's international patient traffic is the most commonly cited indicator
of its reliance on global markets. But in many ways, it is the least
important of Mayo's global connections. The way Mayo roams the world
to attract the smartest doctors, researchers, and administrators is the
patients only bring dollars to Mayo Clinic. Its international
staff and professional
visitors bring it infinitely more -- that is,
the "knowledge" in the "knowledge-based
Only it's not just knowledge. It's wisdom, and it's experience. It's
the wisdom of having grown up in Asia where parents are revered throughout
old age, and then giving medical treatment with precisely that kind of
gentle reverence to an ailing grandmother from Kasson, Byron, or Albert
That's the kind of stuff that has brought people back to the Mayo Clinic
for decades. And they are still coming back.
do we maintain the human touch in an increasingly technological
age? Mayo's example gives strong hints. Welcome the foreigner.
the immigrant. Learn from both. Grow from both.
And, make a pilgrimage. Thousands every year come to Mayo to be healed
and transformed. When we go overseas and meet people who we discover
are different from us but the same, we too can be healed and transformed.
And in that way, we can keep our humanistic focus.
Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report