Alumna returns to Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine as values-driven leader

Darcy Reed, M.D., M.P.H., was a third-year medical student when she met a patient who didn't like his hospital chair. "I called all sorts of people to find a new chair," says Dr. Reed. "It was just a chair, but the patient was so delighted. I realized that as a student, I could make a difference."

Today, Dr. Reed serves as the senior associate dean for academic affairs for Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, and it's evident how experiences like her search for a chair shaped her approach to health care, leadership and educating the next generation of physicians.

Finding a family at Mayo Clinic

Dr. Reed's Mayo Clinic journey started 25 years ago, and she remembers well the first time she walked through the door. "The person at the door called me by name," she says. "We’d never met and already she knew my name. That stayed with me."

It was these seemingly small, personalized experiences that made Mayo Clinic feel like family to Dr. Reed and compelled her to complete her medical training at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

During medical school, Dr. Reed met another family of sorts when she started working alongside her mentor, Linda Ward, M.D. "That's when I saw how the values really came to life and understood the difference I could make as a physician," says Dr. Reed. "I would watch Dr. Ward care for patients, and I knew I wanted to be like that as a physician."

Dr. Ward saw in Dr. Reed a student with a talent for primary care. Encouraged by Dr. Ward that she had found her place in medicine, Dr. Reed went on to complete her internal medicine residency at Mayo Clinic.

A passion that spreads beyond the exam room

Near the end of her residency, Dr. Reed began to consider how she could most significantly contribute to patients during her career, and education was the answer. "With education, it's no longer just the patients in my clinic who I can serve," she says. "It's now patients around the world who are cared for by the physicians who train here."

Dr. Reed was specifically energized by creating curriculum and measuring its effectiveness. It was the part of medicine that she spent nights and weekends working on not because she had to, but because she loved it.

In 2013, Dr. Reed became a senior associate dean, and she is now leading enhancements to Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine's curriculum to best prepare students for the rapid changes in health care. Those enhancements include giving students more flexibility to discover and explore their own passions.

"Students will have the greatest impact when their work aligns with their interests," says Dr. Reed. "That is when they will really be inspired and driven to make discoveries and innovate."

She wants to make sure the curriculum allows students to explore those interests by earning a specialized master's degree, working closely with a Mayo Clinic investigator on research, or pursuing extra time with specialists in a clinical area they find intriguing.

Patient care fuels values-driven students

Dr. Reed also is working to get students into clinics and hospitals earlier and more often. Moments like her own hunt for a chair or watching Dr. Ward in action prepare students and instill the values in a way classroom instruction cannot. "You don't need a medical degree to show compassion or work as part of a clinical team," says Dr. Reed. "Getting into the clinic early gives students the opportunity to really know what it means to put patients' needs first."

As someone with a passion for the data and research on the effectiveness of medical education, Dr. Reed recognizes that clinical exposure also sharpens students' patient care skills and gives them a deep understanding of health care. That prepares students to be genuine health care leaders who not only deliver excellent care to their patients but also innovate to improve health care for all patients.

The meaningful, authentic patient interactions are also what propel many students through the grueling parts of medical school, such as boards or residency application. "Caring for people is the whole reason they are here, and it's what fuels them," says Dr. Reed.

Keeping the values alive

Dr. Reed's experience as a medical student made her the values-driven leader she is today. And because of her, hundreds of new physicians will keep Mayo Clinic values alive as they care for patients around the world and perhaps even become educators themselves who instill those values in the next generation of students.

"When you learn to be a physician in a values-driven culture, it's part of you and how you think," she says. "Even as health care changes, the values are the guide that ensures the needs of the patient always come first."

Eds Note: The individual featured in images was alone following social distancing guidelines, and in compliance with Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 safety guidelines while unmasked.


Hope & Healing
Hope & Healing
Hope & Healing