"We Came Along in Medicine Like Boys on a Farm"
As young boys, William (Will) and Charles (Charlie) Mayo assisted their mother and father in whatever tasks they were engaged. Mrs. Mayo would instruct them in botany as they worked in the garden or in the fields. From what she learned through reading medical books and working with her husband, she acquired a practical knowledge of common diseases and their treatment. Dr. Charlie once remarked, "Mother was a real good doctor herself."
Their father exposed his two sons to physics, chemistry and anatomy. The brothers were expected to clean their father's office before school, take care of the horses, and drive their father on rounds. If the emergency called for it, the elder Dr. Mayo would involve his sons, wife and daughters, in patient calls. Even as tykes, the brothers accompanied their father at local and district medical society meetings. There they would witness an exchange of ideas and meet some of the finest pioneer physicians.
As the brothers grew, their responsibilities expanded. Over time, the two began rolling bandages and applying plaster casts. What they saw and heard were as important as what they did. They watched and listened as their father interviewed each patient to develop a history, observed his thoroughness in doing patient examinations, and from this learned the principles of diagnosis and prognosis.
After their father traveled to St. Paul and to other parts of the United States and Europe, he returned with stories about emerging concepts in medicine and research. He brought back news of advances in pathology, anesthesia and surgery, new amputation techniques and high-powered microscopes.
From listening and watching, the brothers began to assist their father with such tasks as fixing tissue in alcohol and mounting tissue samples their father removed in surgery. Ultimately, they assisted in operations by tying off the blood vessels or by giving anesthesia. Practical experience was followed up with constant encouragement from their father to read Gray's Anatomy, Holden's Anatomical Landmarks and Paget's Lectures on Surgical Pathology.
And so it was that the brothers came into medicine like farm boys on a farm. Dr. Charlie once said, "The biggest thing Will and I ever did was to pick the father and mother we had."