“The needs of the patient come first”.
Ken Burns’ latest film, The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science, covers the founding and development of the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota.
In 1883, after a devastating tornado killed thirty-seven people and injured hundreds of others, Dr. W.W. Mayo, a local physician with his own practice, called on the assistance of Mother Alfred Moes and the Sisters of St. Francis to aid in the recovery efforts. Sometime later, Mother Alfred had a vision showing her order founding a hospital, with Dr. Mayo at the head. Six years and over $40,000 later, a handshake agreement between the two parties would quickly develop into one of the leading medical institutions in the world.
As he did in his documentary series The Vietnam War, Burns intercuts his narrative between the history of the Clinic and interviews with recent patients, most of whom are seeking second opinions and groundbreaking treatments not available elsewhere. We learn of Dr. Mayo and his family, particularly his sons William and Charles, who would come to take over their father’s practice and go on to lead the Clinic together, as well as the continued efforts of Mother Alfred and the Sisters of St. Francis, who, having built St. Mary’s Hospital, continued to serve as nurses to ensure that the spiritual needs of their patients were also addressed.
While the film briefly touches on the difficulties the Mayo Clinic has faced over the years (access can be problematic; treatments fail; people die; how the patient-centered approach had allowed for discrimination against doctors of color), the focus of the film is to highlight Dr. Mayo’s goal of developing a culture of “medical democracy” where information is shared, where physicians can learn from one another, where the latest breakthroughs are studied and applied to improve the quality of care for patients from around the world.