From the earliest days, physicians and scientists have flocked to Mayo Clinic from all over the world to learn: Foreign-born physicians in the early days at Mayo Clinic included Donald Balfour, M.D., of Canada, arriving in 1907; Gordon New, M.D., of Canada, 1910; Frank Smithies, M.D., from England in 1910; Russell Carman, M.D., of Canada, 1913; Samuel Amberg, M.D., of Germany, 1921; Ambrose Lockwood, M.D., from Canada, 1921; Georgine Luden, M.D., Ph.D., who came from the Netherlands in 1924; and James Learmonth, M.D., of Scotland, arriving in 1929.
Today is no different. Thousands of international physicians and scientists have trained or worked at Mayo Clinic. The new president and CEO, Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., is from Malta.
Here are the stories of two Mayo Clinic scientists who came to Mayo from opposite sides of the globe.
Chair of Mayo Clinic’s Personnel Committee Charanjit Rihal, M.D., says Mayo looks for the best of the best regardless of where physicians and scientists are from. “Whether physicians and scientists are foreign or domestically trained, we seek excellence in patient care and contributions to education and research. We’re fortunate to have outstanding applicants for our education programs and staff positions from around the world.”
Dr. Rihal came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in 1986 for residency and fellowship. “Mayo Clinic offers the best in training — that’s what attracted me,” says Dr. Rihal, the William S. and Ann Atherton Professor of Cardiology Honoring Robert L. Frye, M.D. “Homestead Village, where I lived as a trainee, was like a microcosm of the U.S. I loved being around people from so many places who represented a variety of experiences and perspectives. It was tremendously fun and exciting.”
He returned to Canada for three years after training and came back to Rochester when he was invited to join the staff in 1995. “Having had the Mayo experience spoils you for all other places,” he says. “In the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine alone, we have staff from all over the U.S. and Canada as well as Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, France, the U.K., Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Singapore and Australia. Other large departments are much the same — a collection of the ‘best of the best’ from around the world.
“Mayo Clinic considers itself to be a resource for humanity. The patients we serve are international. Having staff who represent countries around the globe adds to the richness of the Mayo Clinic tapestry.”
“I wasn’t very happy,” she says. “I had a young patient with pancreatic cancer who was in great pain. He had two little children and wanted treatment to extend his life. We had nothing to offer him. He died on my shift, and it was a great shock to me. I was at the best hospital in China, but we had nothing to offer this patient. I’d wanted to be a doctor since I was 5 or 6 years old and never considered another path, but I wanted to find ways to better understand disease so I could help patients in the clinic. I decided to go to the U.S. for more training.”
Dr. Bi completed a Ph.D. focused on pancreatic physiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, studying pancreatic and breast cancer.
“Armed with more basic science knowledge, I decided to return to clinical care,” says Dr. Bi.
She completed an internal medicine residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Brackenridge Hospital in Austin and still wasn’t done. “My interest in the pancreas hadn’t waned, and I wanted more advanced training,” she says. In 2011 Dr. Bi joined the lab of Vijay Shah, M.D., chair, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, studying the microenvironment of pancreatic cancer in a clinical fellowship.
“I was offered a fellowship at another leading academic medical center, but their research ‘shield’ was not as strong as Mayo’s, and I wanted to be a physician-scientist,” says Dr. Bi. “I also believed I couldn’t find better mentors than those at Mayo Clinic. Choosing Mayo was the best decision I’ve ever made. Mayo has such a collegial environment. It’s not a hierarchy like most universities. Regardless of your rank, everyone treats you with respect. The first time I visited Mayo Clinic, Dr. Shah, the fellowship program director, escorted me to the shuttle to the Minneapolis airport rather than send me on my own, which was amazing. I can easily talk with my department chair without any concern. At Mayo we value everyone on the patient care team equally.
“Mayo allows me as much time as I need with patients, which is perhaps unique in the world. Mayo’s culture is exceptional. I’ve been at 10 institutions during my career, so I have a good basis for comparison.”
Two years ago Dr. Bi relocated to Mayo’s Florida campus when her husband accepted a job in the state. She recently started a clinical trial of a therapy for acute pancreatitis and is building her own translational research program, describing herself as a “cross-talker between the bench and bed.”
“My experiences at Mayo have been the most exciting of my career,” says Dr. Bi. “I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to practice medicine the right way.”
This article was originally published in Mayo Clinic's Alumni Magazine, Issue 2, 2019.