Pass the Mayo

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Recently my lady had to go to Mayo Clinic for tests and treatment. Like most people I had heard of Mayo my whole life and knew it to be a world-class medical facility populated by thousands of doctors who are known for being the best at what they do. Seeing it up close gave me a whole new appreciation for how good it is, and also gave me insight into why it is so good and it offered a few lessons for those of us in education.

My sweetie, who was the patient, jokingly called it “Mecca” because if you have an illness that baffles others, it is the place you go to find relief. It’s the ultimate sick destination. As we drove into Rochester, Minnesota it struck me less as Mecca and more as the Emerald City. Rising up out of the flat plains of southern Minnesota, dozens of very tall, very modern buildings bear the name Mayo on their sides. It was so impressive I already had hope they could do what has to be done and that they were at least as all-knowing as the great and powerful Oz.

As I witnessed her treatment I found there were several lessons for educators with how Mayo does its work and achieves its world-class status. And it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out.

Service with a Smile

First, everyone we dealt with was smiling, friendly, and made you feel they were there to make sure that you go home well. They are professional and their customer orientation is first-rate. They are informative and transparent. They make sure that you have total understanding of what they know and what they are doing and why they are doing it. This leads to a sense of reassurance and confidence on the part of the patient. And even though there are thousands of patients there from all over the world, as they work with you they make you feel you are the only one that matters. If schools could capture just one fraction of this customer orientation, we would find we are much more supported and respected.

Further, the environment of the clinic is actually pleasant, and although they handle thousands of patients, the total effect gives you a sense of personal care. And the physical environment is very pleasant with artwork, comfortable chairs, and lots of large windows so light is a major part of the atmosphere.


A second aspect of Mayo is that they are a team operation. Before you arrive the team has gone over all your records and they have a deep understanding of the issues confronting the patient and they have worked out the treatment plan they are going to follow. The team is a vertical team with a doctor, a PA or nurse, and a clerical person, and each of them are considered vital to the work of the team. And the teams interact with each other, so if you have to see a different doctor they are already on top of your records and understand your treatment protocol. When you interact with one member of the team, you are interacting with all of them; the patient’s level of confidence increases because they come to believe in the team and what they are doing.

We know from research that the mind is a great part of any treatment and that having a positive belief system is the first step to recovery. As Wayne Dyer, the wonderful motivation psychologist, used to put it, “You’ll see it when you believe it.” Belief gives birth to reality. Giving the patient (or the student and parent in our case) a sense of belief that they are in good hands and that improvement is on the way is a critical first step to progress.

Something else the team does is take things in order. If you go to Mayo with multiple issues, the team will focus on the most important one first and then start treatment on the others in order of importance. My late friend Robert Spillane used to have a mantra about school that the “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You might also say that you have to make the first thing the first thing to do first. As we work with students we need to focus in the most important things first and then move on from there. We can’t address all their issues at the same time. Prioritize.

Don’t Forget the Follow-up

Another mark of the Mayo way is the way they follow up. They just don’t treat you, they follow up with their treatment and make certain that you are progressing and that the treatment worked. If it didn’t work, they come up with an alternative plan and then they follow up with that. In school, the best teachers know that their influence never stops and that students never stop being their students. I know I had teachers who were teaching me after I became an adult. That is an attitude of follow-up is what we need to expect of all our staff.

Keep Learning

Something else I found interesting is that although Mayo is a working hospital and clinic, they are continually doing research and finding ways to push the boundaries of what they know to another level. They incorporate technology into everything they do and wed the technology with the pursuit of healing. While I was there waiting for my sweetie to come out, I was approached by a doctor who was doing research trying to find a way to make gastro surgery safer using technology that uses the power of smell to diagnose. I found that really interesting but I was also interested that working doctors were also pursuing pure research. How many schools are actively involved in ongoing research to find out how they might be more effective? We tend to leave that up to universities and we shouldn’t. Schools should be the center of the pursuit of knowledge, not just for students but for us.

While teaching and learning is very different from making widgets or even from treating patients, there are things we can learn from other world class operations that would make our work more impactful. We need to stay open to what we see in the world around us and we need to pass the mayo.