ROCHESTER — When Heba Abdallah started school to become a pharmacy technician, she doubted she could juggle it all.
At the time she was raising three children, the youngest of whom was just two weeks old when she started the project. But she gained confidence as the six-month program progressed and its flexibility fit into her busy life. She found that she could do most of her work from home, as the previous weeks had been done online. The program director’s support helps her stay on track and motivated.
“I ended up enjoying every day of this program,” said Abdullah, who found a job at Mayo a month after graduation.
It doesn’t hurt that the program offered by the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences is tuition-free and includes a $3,500 stipend.
Abdullah’s career also provides insight into how Mayo replenishes and sustains its workforce. Every year, thousands of learners like Abdullah graduate from Mayo programs and schools. They include scientists, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and managers. For decades, Mayo’s educational role has been vital: teaching and training the next generation of medical professionals.
The Mayo Clinic is a massive educational enterprise, educating more than 4,400 students annually, but its role as a medical institution is often overlooked.
Mayo has five schools, all affiliated with the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Sciences. Together they form the largest educational undertaking in the Rochester area.
They include the Alix School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Health Sciences, the School of Graduate Medical Education and the Mayo Clinic School of Continuing Professional Development.
They exist because Mayo’s workforce needs more doctors, scientists, nurses and administrators. Like much of higher education, Mayo faces a long-term decline in the number of college students nationwide despite surging workforce demands.
On top of these challenges, the years-long pandemic has exacerbated a shortage of health care workers. Offering free tuition, healthy stipends and flexible plans is one way Mayo seeks to spark interest in the health care field.
Take the Mayo College of Health Sciences, for example, which is a key component of Mayo’s workforce development strategy. It has been around for 50 years. Today, it educates nearly 500 graduates as technicians, technologists, therapists and practitioners.
These programs range from nine-week phlebotomy programs (training students how to draw blood) to doctoral programs and more.
The school plays a key role in resolving, if not resolving, Mayo’s workplace shortage. For example, it expanded enrollment to meet demand for more respiratory therapists, nurse anesthetists and pharmacy technicians. In some programs, full tuition and financial stipends are provided. New pathways are also being developed, including creating opportunities for high school students to enter health care careers to prepare them for entry-level positions.
Dr. Tiffany Wu is a third-year fellow at the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education. Her specialties are gastroenterology and hepatology. Gastroenterologists diagnose and treat diseases related to the digestive tract, of which the liver is just one, whereas a hepatologist’s focus is limited to the liver and bile ducts.
Wu graduated from Texas A&M University School of Medicine and then completed an in-house residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center before becoming a fellow at the Mayo Clinic. Doctors use fellowships to gain expertise in specialized areas of medicine, such as transplant surgery.
Wu developed an early passion for treating the underserved. Her focus is global health work, where her goal is to improve care for under-resourced populations. She interned at Rice 360, where she designed and field-tested a low-cost medical device called a hand-operated centrifuge in Malawi. She later received a nine-month fellowship at Unite for Site, a nonprofit global health organization.
Fellowships allow physicians to follow experts closely to learn more in a single area of medicine. Not all doctors complete a fellowship, but those who do are seeking to become the top doctors in their field. Wu’s goal is to improve care for patients with advanced liver disease.
“I hope to develop innovative solutions in digital technology to detect early disease, predict liver decompensation and provide personalized treatment,” Wu said. “Mayo fits my goals perfectly.”
Some programs have been reorganized to reduce the time required to earn a degree. Others have streamlined the admissions process. Multiple enrollment start dates free learners from the traditional academic year calendar.
Mayo Clinic trains and educates students from around the world, but the majority of the 60,000 alumni of the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Sciences are from the United States. About 10% come from other countries. Mayo’s Education Shield covers the entire Mayo Clinic, including Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Mayo Clinic Health System, Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Mayo Clinic in Florida.
The exact number of Mayo learners who graduate and accept or return to work at Mayo fluctuates, said Dr. Fredric Meyer, executive dean for education in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Sciences and dean of the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. . But even those flying to other pastures would bring benefits to the entire health care system.
“We are proud of all of our graduates, whether immediately employed at Mayo Clinic or elsewhere, as they continue to practice the Mayo model of care,” Meyer said.
As healthcare and technology advance, new programs are being created or constantly evolving. The Mayo Clinic School of Biomedical Sciences was the first school in the United States to grant master’s and doctoral degrees. Postgraduate Program in Regenerative Sciences. Postgraduate courses in artificial intelligence have also been developed. We have invested heavily in simulation training so students, nurses and learners can develop their skills and demonstrate competency before engaging in patient care.
“More than a century ago, the Mayo brothers introduced a team-based approach to integrative medicine and it continues today with the important contributions of all of our learners,” Meyer said.
This story is part of our special “Mayo Clinic 160” section, which appears in the Saturday, Jan. 27, print edition of The Post.