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Brainstorm Health: Ken Burns Mayo Clinic Documentary, Clovis Settlement, Global War on Poverty

September 19, 2018, 9:53 PM UTC

Hello and happy hump day, readers. This is Sy.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with famed documentarian Ken Burns about his latest project: A two-hour exploration of the renowned Mayo Clinic, one of America’s oldest medical institutions.

The documentary, titled The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science, is scheduled to premiere September 25 at 9 P.M. EST on PBS, and was produced and co-directed by Burns alongside his colleagues Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers. Burns tells Fortune it will explore each of those individual ingredients—faith, hope, and science—to tell the renowned Minnesota-based hospital’s story.

That story is, indeed, a fascinating one. The institution was born out of a devastating natural disaster—and the ensuing, unlikely alliance between a “Darwinist doctor” and a group of enterprising nuns, as Burns puts it.

In 1883, a massive tornado ripped through English immigrant William Worrall (better known as W.W.) Mayo’s adopted town of Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo and his sons took it upon themselves to lead a re-building effort to help their friends and neighbors.

That fateful decision led to the Mayos’ meeting with the Sisters of Saint Francis—a convent led by one Mother Alfred Moes—which helped take care of patients injured by the storm. But the partnership wouldn’t end there. Mother Alfred told Mayo, the seeming skeptic, that she’d had a vision from God instructing her to build a hospital that Mayo would direct—a facility that would one day become “world renowned for its medical arts,” in Mother Alfred’s words.

Mayo, a man of science, was skeptical at first. But the rest is history. The institution the two built is now regularly cited as one of the best hospitals in America by groups like U.S. News & World Report. Fortune has placed it on our Best Places to Work list on several occasions. It’s the epicenter of groundbreaking scientific studies and has been the refuge of patients like the late Sen. John McCain and the Dalai Lama alike (both of whom are interviewed in the upcoming documentary).

“I didn’t set out to give a wet kiss to the Mayo Clinic,” says Burns. “I’ve been making films about quintessential American stories and people for more than 40 years… What I came to find is the Mayo Clinic’s story is a wonderful, complicated mixture of American ingredients.”

Burns tell me that what may be most impressive about the Mayo Clinic’s “secret sauce” for treating patients is that, well, it’s not a secret at all. “It’s something they’re willing to share from the beginning: Focus on the patients and take care of each other.”

Just how does that translate into the real-world business of medicine? Burns mentions several examples, such as Mayo’s nonprofit status, the possibility that an organization employing salaried physicians and surgeons may be more apt to collaborate with each other and put patients first, and the group’s willingness to innovate on—and even take a contrarian approach to—conventional medical practices.

“You hear the origin story, and it’s nice. But then you dig deeper and see it’s not just a nice story—those founding ideals are at the heart of it,” says Burns.

You can watch the documentary next Tuesday on PBS.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Fitbit expands its health care footprint (a lot). Fitbit is marching on in its quest to break into health care. The company announced a new platform in collaboration with health insurer Humana called "Fitbit Care." In an ongoing evolution of its approach—one that centers on enterprise health care and wellness programs—the new service centers on health coaching in order to, hopefully, contain health care costs. As we've seen on many occasions, that's easier said than done.


Clovis to pay $20 million to settle SEC charges. Biotech Clovis Oncology, including current CEO Patrick Mahaffy and former CFO Erle Mast, has been ordered to pay upwards of $20 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges alleging misleading statements about a cancer drug called Roci. Clovis didn't agree to (or deny) the allegations, which state that the company essentially lied to investors about the efficacy of its treatment, leading to a boost in its stock.  (Reuters)


Investments in the global war on poverty. Cliff has a wonderful piece on the best investments we can make in the global war on poverty. They are, as follows: Health, education, sanitation, and family planning. Those conclusions are drawn from the latest 2018 Goalkeepers Report from Bill & Melinda Gates. Make sure to read Cliff's full breakdown here(Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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