A Couple's Mission to Encourage Whole Person Care Blossoms Into a Center for Women's Health

Penny and Bill George learned the importance of caring for the mind, body and spirit firsthand. Penny’s experience inspired a gift to Mayo Clinic that established the Center for Women’s Health — a center focused on empowering women during their health journeys.

Penny George, Psy.D., learned from a young age the role that care and comfort play in health care. Her father, Dr. Robert Pilgram, a general surgeon, would take young Penny to visit neighboring communities on horseback in the mountains of Maryland.

The visits weren’t necessarily to offer treatment to patients, who often had advanced conditions such as congestive heart failure. The mission was to offer them comfort in their time of need.

"Dad told me it was important for people to know that someone cared about them,” Penny recalls. “Although he was a surgeon, it was a different era. Money wasn’t in long supply, but the gift of self and the idea of service were.”

The Big Picture

Penny attributes these experiences as key in establishing her values of servitude and giving back to the community. After being treated for breast cancer and building on those values, she discovered her mission.

While grateful for the care she received at another health care system in the 1990s, Penny found that care incomplete because it focused solely on her disease and body part, not on herself as a whole person connected in mind, body and spirit. She found success in her healing journey in part by complementing her conventional care with integrative elements, such as nutrition, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture and tai chi.

Penny and her husband, Bill, former CEO of Medtronic, created the George Family Foundation in 1994. Penny became determined to use the resources of the foundation to improve the care experiences of those who would follow. The mission of the George Family Foundation is to foster wholeness in mind, body, spirit and community by developing authentic leaders and supporting transformative programs that serve the common good. Supporting the pioneering leadership of Stephanie S. Faubion, M.D., is a perfect fit for that mission.

Bill had noticed the lack of focus on women in health care for years, beginning in his time at Medtronic. Traditionally, clinical care, research and drug trials were based on the needs of men. From Bill’s perspective, there needed to be more emphasis on the health of women.

“There are women’s breast centers, or obstetrics and gynecology centers, but they’re very specialized,” Bill says. “Penny and I didn’t see anyone looking comprehensively at what women need, and we felt like this was an idea whose time had come.”

Focus on the Whole Person

Earlier this year, Penny and Bill and the George Family Foundation committed a combined gift of $5 million to establish the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health. In honor of the gift, Mayo Clinic recognizes Penny and Bill and the George Family Foundation as Principal Benefactors. The center, led by Dr. Faubion, will apply the collaborative care Mayo Clinic is known for to address the comprehensive health care needs of women.

“To provide truly effective health care for women, we need to understand who they are and what they are juggling at home and in their lives,” Dr. Faubion says. “We can provide medically appropriate care, but if we don’t understand a woman’s circumstances and tailor recommendations to her specifically, she may not be able to carry out the plan of care.”

When fully established, the Center for Women’s Health will focus on empowering women with resources that help them prioritize their care and provide them with the options and solutions they need to improve their well-being based on their health needs, genetic traits, lifestyle and personal preferences. Patients will be provided with information and education on health and wellness and will be able to take advantage of services in all areas of women’s health to help them stay healthy or to treat their existing conditions.

The multidisciplinary center will serve as a model for other departments at Mayo Clinic and will work with them to incorporate integrative health and lifestyle services into patient care. The center will also collaborate with the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Research Center and Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine to further research and the education of future health care leaders on how sex and gender influence health and disease.

By establishing trusting relationships between women and their providers, the hope is that women feel heard and valued as partners in their care. Dr. Faubion, recognized as the Penny and Bill George Director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health, has found through years of direct patient care and research that this has been a long-standing need.

“When we asked women about their health care, we heard — loud and clear — that women weren’t happy with their care,” Dr. Faubion says. “They didn’t feel heard and sometimes felt their concerns were being dismissed. They also didn’t feel that their multiple roles, as mothers, daughters and caregivers, were being considered in their care.”

Leading the Way

Bill’s conversations during appointments with Dr. Faubion led him to learn about her passion for women’s health and, in turn, her strong leadership at Mayo Clinic.

“We like to get behind leaders who make a difference,” says Bill. “Penny and I look for leaders who are really making a difference in the world, and we believe Dr. Faubion is one of those people.”

Bill and Penny are optimistic about the launch of the center after working over the last 20 years to promote women’s health and integrative medicine around the country. They see Mayo Clinic’s investment as a way to accelerate the growing movement.

“For an institution of Mayo’s scope and credibility to say this is important makes it possible for others to get on board,” says Penny. “Bill and I are grateful to be able to help launch such an important center. What could bring us more joy at this point in our lives than knowing the lives of so many women will be touched in this wonderfully holistic way?”

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