Mayo Clinic will receive $200 million from the founder of a corporate turnaround firm to help future students pay for medical school and study fields such as genetics and artificial intelligence, which are becoming central to modern medicine.
The endowment gift by Jay Alix, announced Tuesday morning, is the largest in Mayo's history. The Rochester-based health care provider is renaming its medical school as the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in recognition of the gesture. "This is a powerful, transformational, multigenerational gift," said Dr. Fred Meyer, dean of the medical school. "We're honored and excited all at the same time."
A business consultant from Birmingham, Mich., Alix said he has long admired and studied Mayo's "one-stop shop" approach to treating patients with complex illnesses, and wanted to preserve that legacy for the next generation of doctors. "Mayo produces doctors who really put the needs of the patients first," said Alix, who serves on Mayo's board of trustees.
Meyer said half the endowment would fund scholarships to help students manage the cost of medical school at its campuses in Rochester; Scottsdale, Ariz., and Jacksonville, Fla. The other half would support enhanced training, up to the master's degree level, for medical students in related fields such as bioengineering, and a "think tank" to study new ways to use virtual reality and other technologies to improve teaching methods.
Alix is the founder of New York-based AlixPartners, which has consulted over the past 40 years in the turnarounds of firms such as Unisys, Zenith, DirectTV and Kodak. He worked in the Twin Cities in the mid-1990s in the restructuring of National Car Rental.
After his wife died in 2000, Alix sold his controlling interest in the firm to devote time to raising his daughters, but continued to provide consulting advice. In 2008, he helped engineer the plan that saved General Motors and prevented the company's collapse from deepening the economic recession.
Alix said he first became interested in Mayo while studying its business practices. He then started going to Rochester for regular physicals and primary care. He donated $10 million a decade ago to help Mayo preserve its medical care model, which allows physicians to spend the kind of extended time talking with patients and studying mysterious illnesses that's not always covered by health insurance.
But he said he has been increasingly concerned by the rising costs of medical education, which might be driving students away from the profession at a time when the nation faces a physician shortage. Medical school at Mayo costs around $50,000 per year.
The Association of American Medical Colleges has projected a shortage of 121,000 physicians by 2030, in part due to the aging of the American population and its increasing demand for medical care.
New York University addressed the issue last summer by joining a small number of medical schools where medical education is tuition-free, regardless of need. Mayo's solution to the looming shortage has been to double the size of its medical school enrollment, which required an increase in its endowment to maintain or increase its scholarship levels.
"I really want to help students," Alix said. "The cost of medical education today is very high — it's almost prohibitive. Meanwhile the situation for doctors in the future is very challenging, because the economics of medicine are becoming more depressed."
At the same time, medical research is identifying ways to extend life through genetics, virtual reality and data analysis. Alix said doctors will need to be able to understand these innovations and how to apply them to patients.
"The question is how do you translate that into the educational environment, into medical education," Alix said, "so that new doctors coming out of medical school are trained in it and ready to go?"