As part of the first medical school class, Randolph C. Steer, M.D., Ph.D., remains awed at the significance of a Mayo Clinic education.
Randy Steer glanced around on a momentous autumn day in 1972. Surrounding him at the opening convocation were 39 other dreamers — the first class of 40 students at what's now known as Mayo Clinic School of Medicine — eager to begin their adventure in medicine.
Their professors didn't know what to think of such a "far-out" bunch. "One of our very esteemed professors, a world-class figure in medicine, referred to us as Woodstock West," Dr. Steer jokes. "A number of the students looked as if they just left a rock concert. We had long hair, typical clothes of the '60s and '70s, sandals, cutoff jeans."
From Minneapolis to Memphis, Tennessee, the students coming to the new medical school in Rochester, Minnesota, brought with them their free-spirited nature, according to a Mayo Alumni description of the first days. One roared up on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and parked it on the student center lawn. Another wore a feather in his hair, secured by a headband. It was clear that Randy and his peers were bringing something unique to what was once the small-town medical practice of the Mayo brothers.
The first educators and administrators for Mayo Clinic School of Medicine set off with one goal: to produce compassionate students and doctors. Dr. Steer recognizes his evolution from Randy Steer to Randy Steer, M.D., Ph.D., as part of Mayo's effort to make the best possible doctors to serve the world — a gift he now holds above all others.
"My education at Mayo was a remarkably rewarding experience," Dr. Steer says. "We may have been a bit imposing to the staff at first, but their commitment to providing us a world-class education never faltered. I am certain that spirit continues even today."
The school developed an innovative curriculum enabling students to become involved with patient care early on in their training. Until this time, most medical schools focused on memorization and coursework with clinical experiences scheduled for the later years of school. Mayo quickly became a leader in problem-based learning. "We were experiencing the 1972 equivalent of forefront knowledge, no question, and that's exactly what students in Arizona's new Mayo Clinic School of Medicine will experience — but with the progress of knowledge available to us in 2017 and beyond."
The 1970s were marked by noteworthy medical and health care advances, such as the beginning of the "war on cancer;" early efforts to curb smoking; the need for early detection of heart disease; the rise of exercise and jogging; and the use of imaging for diagnostics, as Mayo Clinic introduced the first CT scanner in North America.
Dr. Steer is all too familiar with the breadth of medical knowledge available today. Decades after being in the inaugural class, Dr. Steer has had a notable career in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics and medical devices industries. He is often sought out for his business and regulatory expertise, having served on more than two dozen boards of directors and other advisory boards in addition to being a Mayo Clinic trustee since 2011. Though his role as a trustee now helps shape the future of health care, he recalls his days as a student still learning how to navigate the technology and knowledge available to him and his peers.
"When I was in medical school, we'd march down Second Street — sometimes in a foot and a half of snow in our galoshes to go into the stacks of library books for hours to find the information we needed. The access to data now far eclipses anything we had back then."
The evolution of information and access to it, coupled with new technologies and teaching modalities, means today's Mayo Clinic School of Medicine students are well-positioned to continue the legacy of Dr. Steer and his fellow students. With the opening of the new Mayo Clinic School of Medicine — Arizona Campus, a whole new set of dreamers are now beginning their own "farout" journey.
"I think we're affording these medical students the finest medical education in the world," concludes Dr. Steer.