Birth of the Mayo Clinic

Nitesh Paryani, M.D., a UF COM class of 2010 graduate, returned to talk to current students about the Mayo Clinic’s history and its opportunities for research, clinical rotations, and residencies. Paryani is currently a radiation oncology resident at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Photo by Charles Poulton

The Mayo Clinic might not exist today if it wasn’t for a terrible tornado that hit Rochester, Minn., in 1883.

The disaster motivated local physician Dr. William Worrall Mayo to join forces with a local order of nuns to build the 27-bed St. Mary’s Hospital, which was the first general hospital in southeastern Minnesota, in 1889.

“It was the beginning of the Mayo Clinic,” said Nitesh Paryani, a class of 2010 UF College of Medicine graduate.

Paryani, who is currently a radiation oncology resident at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, spoke about the history of the Mayo Clinic on May 10, as part of the monthly History of Medicine lecture series. He also shared with current medical students the opportunities that existed for summer research, clinical rotations and residencies with the Mayo Clinic.

He described how the tiny hospital in Rochester grew into the large not-for-profit medical practice and medical research group that now serves more than a million people from all 50 states and nearly 150 countries a year.

The Mayo Clinic headquarters, which has more than 32,000 employees, remains in Rochester, Minn., although it has sites in Florida and Arizona.  The organization also includes the Mayo Clinic Health System, which is a network of clinics and hospitals serving more than 70 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Dr. William Worrall Mayo emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1846 and was appointed to the Union Army enrollment board in Rochester, Minn. in 1863 to examine new recruits for the army. He stayed in the small Midwest town and his sons, Drs. William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo, later joined his practice.

However, in 1919, the two Mayo brothers decided to dismantle their private practice and create a charitable foundation. From this point on, Mayo Clinic physicians received a fixed salary and all proceeds beyond operating expenses were contributed to education, research and patient care, which were represented by the three shields of the Mayo Clinic’s logo. Teamwork and cooperation between health care providers was also emphasizes for the betterment of the patient.

Education was another big priority for the Mayo brothers and in 1915, Mayo Foundation funds were used for stipends for visiting fellows.

“This was the forerunner of the modern residency,” said Paryani.

In 1917, the Mayo brothers donated $2 million to help found the medical school at the University of Minnesota and in 1972, the Mayo Clinic opened its own medical school, Mayo Medical School, in Rochester.

The Mayo Clinic’s national presence grew as it obtained locations in Florida in 1986 and Arizona in 1987.

The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville opened a new 214-bed hospital in 2008, which includes inpatient and outpatient services and a full-service emergency department. With more than 4,700 employees, the campus also includes the Birdsall Medical Research Building for neurological disease research and the Griffin Cancer Research Building.

J.E. Davis, a founder of the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain and a Mayo Clinic patient, was one of the driving forces in bringing the Mayo Clinic to Jacksonville, said Paryani. The Davis family donated 400 acres of land for the new clinic, plenty of which still remains to be developed.

“They are just continuing to expand, so I think it’s going to be a massive center in the next 20 to 30 years,” he said.