Latest Ken Burns film focuses on the history of the Mayo Clinic

“The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope & Science” is a new film from Ken Burns that tells the history of the medical center from its 1863¬†founding in Rochester, Minnesota by William Worrall Mayo.

The film’s co-directors, brothers Chris and Erik Ewers, say they knew very little about the topic when they decided to take on the project. Chris says the idea for the film came when Burns went to the clinic and was invited to a dinner where a 90-year-old nun shared some of the center’s history.

William Worrall was the man “who started it all.” It was his sons, Will and Charlie, who helped carry on the legacy of Mayo Clinic. The clinic broke ground during the Civil War, and the sons took over when their father retired.

The motto of the clinic is “the needs of the patient come first.” Erik says if they learned one thing about the Mayo Clinic, it’s that the history is still applied today. The brothers worked for three years filming and researching, and they agree that the motto holds true.

Once their father retired, Will and Charlie hired interns to do diagnostic work and conduct the initial diagnosis of each patient. Chris says that was the beginning of the clinic we know today.

“A physician we interviewed for the film said it best: ‘If I ever have a problem with a patient’s treatment, there are 2,400 other physicians behind me who are willing to step in and help,'” Chris says. “It’s a collaborative, team-based approach to everything.”

Erik says that everything they found about the history of the clinic surprised them. Being from the east coast, they didn’t know much about Mayo. He says one of the aspects of the clinic that most surprised him was its efficiency.

“It’s the good efficiency,” Erik says. “It’s not about getting you in the door then out the door. Everything moves so seamlessly.”

One question the film asks is why more health clinics don’t follow the model that Mayo created, Chris says. He says it’s because the clinic was created in a void in Rochester on the frontier. The founders had the opportunity to make their own rules and find what works best. He says it’s difficult for medical facilities in more established urban areas to replicate that.

“We had two Dartmouth nurses sit in at a very early screening,” Erik says. “We fully expected them to just roll their eyes… It’s the truth. They told us at the end of the day they wanted to go back to their jobs and be better nurses. That’s what it’s all about.”

The two-hour documentary, “The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope & Science,” will premiere on PBS stations on September 25 and 26.

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Chris Ewers: Co-Director, "The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope & Science"
Erik Ewers: Co-Director, "The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope & Science"

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