The Mayo Clinic is the ultimate dream destination for those practicing medicine.
Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers at Mayo are quick to mention the benefits of having access to the world’s best doctors and healthcare providers; of working for a clinic with a world-renowned reputation; of being able to utilize state-of-the art equipment and stay informed about the most current research findings. Most of all, they are proud to work for an organization that believes in putting patients first.
Hundreds of Saint Mary’s alumni have found a home at the Mayo Clinic, in positions across the board: from cytogenetics to emergency management, public affairs, healthcare administration, sports medicine, IT, public relations, and beyond.
Dr. Debra Martin, biology professor, said that each year she takes her Molecular Biology Class to tour the PGL and the Cytogenetic, FISH, and Microarray laboratories at Mayo Clinic. “I am fortunate that Mayo Clinic provides this opportunity for our students to see molecular biology in action at a world renowned, innovative research facility that is so close to our campus. It is also a time that I can introduce our current science students to the alumni who work in these labs. I am amazed at the percentage of employees in these labs who are Saint Mary’s alumni!”
Let us introduce you to just a few.
Dr. Tom Stewart ’06
Dr. Stewart first meets his patients in the moments before they go into surgery—when they are anxious and at their most vulnerable. An anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Dr. Stewart does his best to calm and comfort their nerves during one of the most stressful periods of their lives.
“We have to gain our patients’ trust in a short time, a very scary time,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. We are the patients’ advocate before, during, and after surgery. We’re the protector of the patient and the last line. We’re focused on keeping them stable and safe throughout surgery, even when things don’t go perfectly as planned.”
In addition to regulating life functions, anesthesiologists give patients medications or blood transfusions, playing a critical—but often unnoticed—role during surgery. When seconds count, anesthesiologists must make snap decisions and keep calm under pressure.
“A lot of our colleagues don’t even know what we all do behind the curtain,” he said. But Dr. Stewart is happy not being in the spotlight. “We didn’t go into anesthesiology for recognition but to put the patients first,” he said.
Dr. Stewart is one of 231 doctors at the Mayo Clinic who specialize in anesthesiology.
He received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2016 and started on staff at the Mayo Clinic in July, although he began doing his residency at the world-renowned medical facility in 2012.
Dr. Stewart’s pager is always near. Although scheduled to work elective surgeries Monday through Friday, Dr. Stewart must work at least two to three night call shifts each month and one weekend shift a month. As a level-one trauma center, the Mayo Clinic is always prepared to provide patients with the most advanced and comprehensive care available.
“You need to be at the ready if something happens. And it often does,” he said. “When we work overnight, we definitely work, we’re not sitting around waiting.”
To be working at a place considered the No. 1 hospital in the United States by U.S. News & World Report is a dream come true for Dr. Stewart.
“To be honest, it is by far the best place in the world—the camaraderie and connection between specialties and being able to communicate with cardiologists or oncologists or anyone else involved with your patients’ care. It makes the care really seamless. On top of that it’s the level of safety and security knowing you have the world’s best colleagues working with you and with the same patients. With the culture here, people really do live and breathe the motto that the patient comes first. Everyone wants to do what’s best for the patient. It makes it an easy and fun place to come to work every day.”
Dr. Stewart had always been attracted to the sciences, but didn’t look at medical school until late in his college career. Fortunately, he said, the academic programming at Saint Mary’s prepared him for medical school.
“The classes I took prepared me academically for the challenges of medical school,” he said. “My undergraduate courses were graduate-level caliber. It felt like we were reviewing the same material that we had already gone over at Saint Mary’s. That was obviously a big advantage going through medical school.”
Additionally, Dr. Stewart said getting to know faculty one-on-one, small class sizes, and the accessibility of faculty outside of class all helped to catapult his academic career.
“I had fantastic advisers. Dr. Deb Martin and Dr. Dick Kowles were huge sources of motivation. Dr. Martin’s biochemistry class was the most academically challenging. That prepared me for the academic rigor of medical school.”
As a 4-year hockey player, Dr. Stewart also learned about time management. “You learn very quickly how to best manage your time and be successful academically, as well as on the ice or playing field. Playing sports at Saint Mary’s was a benefit, never a hindrance.
“I owe all my mentors and professors a big thank you,” he added. “It was very clear they were excited to see people be successful and wanted to nurture students and put them on the right path.”
Dr. Stewart said he frequently runs into other Saint Mary’s alumni at the Mayo Clinic, sometimes at unlikely times, like when working a rotation in pediatric anesthesia during one of the last months of his residency. Somehow he mentioned in conversation that he had gone to Saint Mary’s, and the surgeon poked her head up to let him know she had gone to Saint Mary’s as well.
“I constantly come across people who have connections to Saint Mary’s. It’s very cool.”
Luis Escobar ’12
The biology major knew his end goal was to help others. To him, becoming a physician assistant seemed like the best way to do that.
“It is a career that fits my interest in medicine and my interest of being of service to others in a very direct way,” he said.
Escobar said no two days for him at the Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James are the same.
Physician assistants, he explained, are able to practice medicine in a variety of settings and have many roles. Physician assistants typically practice medicine in teams with physicians and other healthcare providers and are able to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. Physician assistants may practice medicine in a primary care setting but may also practice in a specialty department, such as cardiology or orthopedics, for example.
“There is no routine day,” he said. “We see patients of any age, from little children to nursing home patients. One of the things I like about this job is that there is a lot of variety.”
Escobar said he must always strive to keep up with the latest medical knowledge. “There is no other field that forces you, in a good way, to stay up to date and to keep learning,” he said. “I enjoy that.”
Escobar said he feels honored to be part of the Mayo Health System. “The resources that this organization provides are unbelievable,” he said. “It has helped me grow as a medical provider and has given me all the tools that I need to continue to grow professionally. Every medical provider working within Mayo Clinic Health System is equipped to give our patients the best care. I am very lucky to be a part of this organization so early in my career.”
His first connection to the organization was when he served as a Mayo Innovation Scholar while attending Saint Mary’s.
“That was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “That really gave me and my whole team a taste of what it would be like to be part of a special organization like Mayo.”
Escobar reflects back to his advisers, Dr. Jeanne Minnerath and Dr. Deb Martin, who were helpful and encouraging while simultaneously pushing students to do their best.
“Dr. Martin encourages students to set their goals pretty high. I think the faculty at Saint Mary’s does an amazing job preparing students for the next level.”
Escobar echoes Dr. Martin’s comments about the large number of Saint Mary’s alumni working within Mayo.
“I work with a couple of providers in the Southwest Minnesota region who both graduated from Saint Mary’s within a couple of years of my graduation year. We have a nice Saint Mary’s alumni connection,” he said.
Dr. Amy (Korkowski) Oxentenko ’94
“I was the child who hated going to the doctor,” she said. “I was horribly phobic of needles and you needed six nurses to hold me down to get a shot. My family thought it was paradoxical that I was going into medicine.”
Dr. Oxentenko has been on staff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester since January of 2006; however, she and her husband, also a Mayo doctor, completed their training with Mayo beginning in 1998 and never left.
“Many people who come to Mayo never leave because it’s such a great place to work,” she said. “I’ve had fantastic support throughout my training and my career. I work hard; I put in a lot of hours, but I am also able to find balance to raise my family as well.
“You almost forget you’re working among the world’s experts because it’s such a collegial environment,” she added. “I can call up anyone without hesitation because of the warm nature of everyone’s interactions here.”
She too sees Saint Mary’s in all aspects of her work with the Mayo Clinic. “Sometimes I clearly know who they are,” she said. “Other times you have that déjà vu moment and you wonder how you know them. I see people who I’ve worked with or had classes with at Saint Mary’s for sure.”
Dr. Oxentenko said that in the past 10 years her job has evolved. In the beginning, she spent most of her time in clinical medicine.
“As time has gone on, the education part of my career has grown,” she said. “I initially took over running the gastroenterology fellowship program and oversaw all the trainees who came to Mayo in gastroenterology. Then I transferred as program director for the internal medicine residency program. I also still have a clinical practice and have a regular presence in the GI clinical aspect, but have a much larger role in educational administration over internal medicine, which is the biggest one in the country.”
Dr. Oxentenko said she is thankful for the comprehensive overall liberal arts experience she gained at Saint Mary’s.
“When I look at students coming into medical school, it’s not all about the fact that they were in biology and chemistry, the most typical majors,” she said. “Fortunately some have completely different degrees, and that adds a nice diversity to the individuals who are in medicine. Saint Mary’s provided that. All the Lasallian classes that I took and the books I read by authors that I probably never would have picked up on my own—that all exposed me to a broader education and gave me a more cultured experience.
“I think about the professor who had the most influence on me long-term, Brother Robert Smith,” she said. “He was the hardest teacher that I ever had. But those classes taught you how to approach things in life and relate to people, and that’s going to get an individual farther than learning a particular biology formula … . Those things are more helpful long-term.”
Dr. Oxentenko said med schools particularly look at whether students have consistently performed well through college, not just in prerequisite science classes but also whether or not they are well-rounded, and not just academically. “Those individuals who volunteered, for example, have a level of professionalism and have demonstrated a giving of themselves which is a mark of someone who will do well in medicine,” she said.
Another individual who made a significant impact on Dr. Oxentenko while she was a student is Nikki Richmond, whom she affectionately calls her “dorm mom.” As a hall director back then, Richmond and her family lived next door. Dr. Oxentenko remembers vividly when their young son, Taylor, was diagnosed with Ataxia Telangiectasia. “Seeing her family go through the whole medical evaluation, their longitudinal contact with medicine, and their journey with Taylor deeply influenced me,” she said.
Watching the interaction that the Richmonds had with their healthcare team helped guide her to be the doctor she endeavored to become. “That experience showed me how important medical providers are for each patient,” she said. “Each patient isn’t a name or a number; each patient has a story and a family beyond a story. Watching the relationship that developed between them and Taylor’s caregivers was a moving testament.”