I came to the United States from South Africa in 1978 because I had been offered a job with a prominent academic medical center in the South. During the course of the three weeks I spent in the United States, I also looked at other academic medical posts. Though I was offered a number of positions, I told a physician friend that I'd like to take a look at the Mayo Clinic, which is very well known in South Africa. So my friend said, "That won't be a problem, I know Bob Brandenburg who is the chief of cardiology at Mayo." I got back a very nice letter where Bob said, "I have just stepped down as chief of cardiology, and I'm going to pass this letter on to Dr. Robert Frye, who is my successor."
One of the reasons that I nearly went to the medical center in the South was that it has a fantastic research faculty, including Nobel Prize winners. But, ironically that was also what concerned me, what made me hesitate. I really felt that clinical medicine was not what they were all about. In fact a leader there told me, "What we're about here is NIH [National Institutes of Health] grants. That's the currency of the realm. We are heavily endowed, and we are going to be the research center of the South—we will be the Harvard of the South." And I wanted to do both—academic medicine and clinical medicine.
I was competitive at that time for a number of positions—I was a Rhodes scholar from South Africa. I did my D. Phil. at Oxford, I'd written quite a few papers. So I came to Mayo for a day after I received an encouraging letter from Dr. Frye. By the end of that day I said to Dr. Frye, "If you offer me a job, I'm going to take it." (I said this even though it was a miserable March day, slushy and snowing. And I'd left from Cape Town where it was late summer.) What differentiated Mayo Clinic for me right away were several things—the people, the camaraderie, the physical facility, which was excellent, the clear commitment to clinical excellence, plus the research opportunities. So I was attracted as a staff person to many of the core values. I loved the way people worked and was impressed by the quiet efficiency. But I was most of all struck by the fact that here was a place with great academic potential for me personally, because it suited my research interest, but clinical medicine and education were also taken seriously, and I wanted to do all three.
Mayo Clinic competes best in the marketplace for its human resources by simply being Mayo Clinic. In his account, Dr. Bernard Gersh, currently professor of medicine, found that Mayo Clinic was the best fit for his values, his skills, and his interests ...