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On a Sunday afternoon in late June, I was picking up a rental car at the Minneapolis airport. An electronic sign over the car blinked my name, so it was easy to find. Under the windshield wiper lay a handwritten message, filling both sides of a legal-sized page. Curious, I started reading.

The note was from a woman who had seen my name displayed on the sign and took a chance that I was the same Dr. Cortese who treated her father years ago at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He had early-stage lung cancer, and I was on a team developing experimental treatments using laser and light-activated, cancer-killing drugs. Her father had received three treatments, and she wanted to thank me for caring for him. That was 15 years ago. The daughter was at the airport that day because she had flown in from California to attend his funeral. He had died suddenly the night before from a heart problem.

I was touched, not only because she took the time in her grief to write the note, but also because it reminded me of what I find so compelling and rewarding about medicine—caring for patients.

The best physicians and healthcare providers are part engineers and part artists. The engineer sees the problem and applies technology to fix it. Thanks to the engineers, patients benefit from CT scans, minimally invasive surgeries, and computer-guided, pinpoint treatments. The engineering approach has helped patients immensely and has saved many lives. It's measurable, visible, and almost always reimbursable.

The artist knows when the patient needs a warm smile, reassuring words, or a gentle hug. It's the artists who make every patient feel welcome, comfortable, secure, hopeful. The artist sees the anxiety and reassures the new mother that her baby's fever is nothing to worry about. The artist listens to the middle-aged patient unloading his frustration over failed attempts to quit smoking. The artist knows when there's nothing more the engineer can do and helps the patient and family cope at the end of life. What the artist does is why I became a physician.

This is an excerpt from an essay written by Mayo Clinic president and chief executive officer Dr. Denis Cortese in 2002 when he headed Mayo's Jacksonville, Florida, practice.1 He shared it with the staff in an internal newsletter. We begin with this story because it evokes a powerful truth applicable to all managers regardless of what they manage: organizational excellence is never only about the science. It also is about the "artistry" that Dr. Cortese describes—the human touch, teaching, collaboration, generous acts, personal courage, and core values that guide decision making and inspire extra effort.

This is a book about the art of service that takes readers inside an exceptional service organization, Mayo Clinic, and teaches its lessons. The book is written ...

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