Charting a course for education at Mayo Clinic
Fredric B. Meyer, M.D., tacks quickly from one topic to another. The neurosurgeon and avid sailor keeps his bearings by keeping busy.
Recently named as the new Juanita Kious Waugh Executive Dean for Education, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Dr. Meyer has a bold vision for the spectrum of education activities.
"We are committed to developing the next generation of expert researchers, health care providers and leaders who will shape the future of medicine and scientific discovery," says Dr. Meyer. "Similar to how Mayo Clinic is known as a destination for medical care, I'd like the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science to be known as a destination for education."
One only needs to look at Dr. Meyer's past to understand just how far he'd like to go to achieve the course he's charting.
Dr. Meyer grew up in Massachusetts, with two brothers. His grandparents emigrated from Lithuania through Ellis Island. His father, Irving, became a maxillofacial surgeon. His mother, Charlotte, was a geriatric social worker. The ethos in the Meyer household? The boys would work, and work hard.
"My father's expectation, and he had grown up as a very poor kid, was work and education were the way to succeed in the United States," Dr. Meyer says. "A summer job was important. It was the expectation."
While his family enjoyed those summer months on Cape Cod, it's also how a young Fred came to work at Poole's Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard at age 7.
"Everett Poole taught me the meaning of hard work," says Dr. Meyer, who spent several hours each day during his summers icing fish, cutting fish and later hauling lobster traps.
It not only instilled an ethic that carries Dr. Meyer to this day but also a love of learning — to sail, to fish and to teach others.
Fredric B. Meyer was the only son of Dr. Irving Meyer to practice medicine, but the younger Dr. Meyer is quick to note his brothers are "smarter" than he is, despite his credentials as a world-class neurosurgeon and top-rated teacher
"My father was clearly an inspiration and introduced me to the concept of medicine, and I grafted to it," Dr. Meyer says. "There are many different professions and jobs you can do to help people in times of need."
Dr. Meyer received his medical degree from Boston University, and he always thought he'd end up along the East Coast. He only thought he received an offer from Mayo Clinic because his drive dovetailed perfectly into classic Midwestern values.
After his neurosurgery residency interviews at Mayo Clinic in 1981, Dr. Meyer received a call from Thoralf Sundt, M.D., then neurosurgery program director and future chair of the division, "We figure that you know how to work hard, so we're offering you a position. Do you want it or not?"
He took it.
Dr. Meyer has received accolades worldwide as a neurosurgeon dedicated to meeting patients' needs, but to every one of his students, he's made an even bigger impact as an educator.
Dr. Meyer, recognized as the Alfred Uihlein Family Professor of Neurologic Surgery, has been named Mayo Clinic's Neurosurgery Teacher of the Year 14 times, dating back to 1993.
"Fred treats all his students like family," says Robert J. Spinner, M.D., the Burton M. Onofrio, M.D. Professor of Neurosurgery. "I've never met a more formidable mentor or more consummate educator."
In 2011, Dr. Meyer received the Distinguished Educator Award — Mayo Clinic's highest honor in education.
He says he's drawn to mentor students, "I've been fortunate with mentorship and hope to provide the same experience to my students."
"I'm passionate about teaching and education. I consider that a very high calling. So I very much enjoy being in surgery. I love surgery. I love operating. But, I particularly enjoy teaching residents in surgery how to operate," Dr. Meyer says. "That's hard because it takes time. You have to feel confident enough in your skills to let a resident do surgery, but protect the patient."
Dr. Meyer's recruitment skills have also netted some key colleagues.
"Fred's reputation as being one of the finest surgeons, a great mentor and educator, and having the highest integrity preceded him," says Bernard R. Bendok, M.D., the William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor, who joined Mayo Clinic in 2015. "When he called me, he easily sold me on his vision for building the greatest three-site neurosurgery academic medical center in the world."
In alignment with his enterprise chair of neurosurgery role, Dr. Meyer plans to expand Mayo's presence and leadership voice in the academic arena.
When it came time to find a leader, the organization sought someone who could build consensus across all three campus sites and expand opportunities for education in both traditional and nontraditional ways.
Dr. Meyer was the perfect fit.
Steven J. Buskirk, M.D., chair of the search committee says, "Fred has a tremendous strategic vision for what could be and what the future holds."
"I like to empower people. I like to get buy-in and get everybody to contribute to a goal. I like coming up with ideas, especially innovative ideas, but I'm not very good at the details," Dr. Meyer says. "So I like to have the ideas and try to motivate and inspire people and then find good people around me to make those things come to fruition, by empowerment."
His colleagues point to Dr. Meyer as one of those "good people," who has inspired and empowered hope and healing spanning his four decades at Mayo Clinic.
"He sees solutions to problems that no one else sees, because he looks at the problem differently and intuitively figures it out," Dr. Spinner says. "What's more is he is an outstanding surgeon who is very humane and takes skilled care of his patients."
Known among his peers for his ability to solve problems in a three-dimensional way, Dr. Meyer applies this thinking in everything from education to his clinical care by looking at how he can improve a process or solve a problem.
"He likes to think of himself as an ordinary Joe, when in actuality, he's extraordinary," Dr. Spinner says. "He just makes everything easy."
And Dr. Meyer's newest career course is perfect for that hardworking boy making 15 cents an hour in a fish market.
"I often say, 'Let's rock and roll,' " Dr. Meyer says."Let's get going with education. Let's make it even better than what it already is."
Mayo Medical School recently changed its name to Mayo Clinic School of Medicine to further elevate the visibility and stature of education at Mayo Clinic.
Along with Mayo Clinic's national medical school, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine is now Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science to better reflect health science and biomedical training available to students. The Mayo Clinic Board of Governors also recently integrated the roles of the Juanita Kious Waugh Executive Dean for Education and dean of the medical school into a single position, now filled by Dr. Meyer.
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing. This article was originally featured on the philanthropic site "You Are...the campaign for Mayo Clinic."
Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science consists of five schools, in which are trained the next generation of health care providers and medical researchers: