The saga of the Mayo Clinic is the subject of the latest project from famed documentarian Ken Burns. The two-hour film, co-directed by Burns and Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers, premiers Sept. 25 on PBS.
“The Mayo Clinic: Faith-Hope-Science,” explores how the history of the health system informs the system's practices today.
With humble beginnings in Rochester, Minn., William Worrall Mayo and Mother Alfred Moes of the Sisters of St. Francis collaborated to help residents of their town recover from a deadly tornado in 1883. Their partnership grew with the leadership of sisters in the St. Francis order; Mayo Sr.'s sons, Will Jr. and Charles; and the sons' wives, Hattie May and Edith Graham. Over the years, the values of both Mayo Sr. and Moes, such as equitable healthcare across religious, economic and class lines, have remained core values at the system.
The film also details the clinic's tradition of having only employed physicians who are paid a salary, rather than using independent physicians working on a fee-for-service basis. The film shows how leaders of Mayo Clinic subsidized payments for poor patients as early as the 1900s.
“One of the messages from Mayo's history is that you can be entrepreneurial and competitive and idealistic and put the patient first all at the same time,” medical historian Rosemary Stevens said. “That is the message now that leaders of these organizations all across the country are trying to tackle.”