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Our View: Ken Burns film illuminates Rochester-Mayo values

September 13, 2018

Ken Burns’ Mayo Clinic documentary, which had its world premiere Monday night at Mayo Civic Center, resulted in a variety of reactions from the audience. There were tears, laughter, applause and knowing nods as stories and faces, familiar and new, appeared on the screen.

Overall, though, it was impossible to suppress a sense of hometown pride. “Mayo Clinic: Faith-Hope-Science,” traces the history of the clinic and rightly emphasizes the close connection between the Mayos, the Sisters of St. Francis, and the community of Rochester.

“It feels like we’re back home,” Burns said as he introduced the film. Burns and his crew spent three years working on the film, exploring Mayo and Rochester, digging through the archives, observing surgery, going on hospital rounds with doctors, interviewing patients, talking to locals. “What transpires in this town,” Burns said, “is nothing short of a miracle.”

Rochester and Mayo are intertwined. As the film shows, the city and the clinic grew side by side. When patients began arriving at Mayo in their hundreds of thousands, the community built lodgings to house them, restaurants to feed them, and eventually an international airport to transport them.

The relationship has been testy at times. Growing pains, the changing nature of medical care, the need for affordable housing — we could go on and on — have all helped create stress and pressure. Generally, Rochester and Mayo have learned to navigate these challenges.

If Mayo does well, Rochester will prosper. But Mayo can’t do well if Rochester doesn’t prosper. It’s a truism both Mayo and city officials will need to keep in mind as we face an even more challenging future.

“We’re not perfect,” Dr. John Noseworthy, Mayo president and CEO, said in a discussion after the screening of the film. “We don’t always do things right.”

After all, the clinic is made up of imperfect humans. Has it become more imperfect as it grows? Has the drive for economies made the clinic’s mission more problematical? Has Rochester bit off more than it can chew with the Destination Medical Center project? The answers to those questions won’t be found in Burns’ film.

Yes, Mayo Clinic has changed, as has Rochester. We are, after all, tied to each other.

Most importantly, though, both Mayo and Rochester are dedicated to service to humanity. “This is a film mostly about values,” Burns said of his documentary.

Those values are what ultimately connect Rochester and Mayo Clinic. It’s something of which all of us who live and work in this region can be proud.

As Burns said Monday, “It could only take place here.”

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