We're always interested in story ideas from our readers. So, when Pauline LaCanne, Allergic Diseases, Rochester, sent us a note about the four phenomenal medical secretaries in her division and their "144 years of allergy knowledge," we knew we had a great story on our hands.
It turns out that LaDonna Mourning, Colleen Wiginton, Kim Baumann and Kim Erickson not only have a combined 144 years of experience in Allergy, but they actually have a grand total of 152 years at Mayo Clinic, since not all of them have worked in the division their entire careers. (But who's counting?) The four amigas have been working as a team for 29 years. Mourning has the most seniority at 46 years, followed by Wiginton and Baumann with 39 and 38 years, respectively. Erickson has the shortest tenure at only 29 years. (We're wondering if the others still call her "newbie.")
Our first question was, "Can these four share the secret to a long career at Mayo Clinic?" They had a few thoughts. According to Erickson, part of it is "getting along with your co-workers and doing a job you enjoy." Wiginton adds, "If you enjoy each other, the challenges of your job don't seem that great." While Mourning suggests, "What's really important is being able to laugh together. If you can't laugh about things that happen around you, it's going to be a tough time."
It turns out that none of them expected to be at Mayo for as long as they have been. "When I started, they said to expect to be here two years," says Baumann. "That seemed like a long time back then." When Wiginton started, "there was a three-month probationary period, and I remember thinking, 'I'm not going to last three months.'" Mourning notes that when she came to Mayo, there was no new employee orientation. "It was, 'Here's your office, here's your desk,'" she says. "I remember thinking in the first few days, 'I didn't learn any of this in college.'" After a pause, she admits, "Maybe more than a few days."
Their jobs, of course, have changed over the years, as Mayo Clinic and technology have changed. Once, they were responsible for transcription, answering phones and scheduling patient appointments, doing patient follow-up calls, and typing academic papers (on manual typewriters). When the first word processor showed up, it came with a big, noisy daisy-wheel printer that shook so much it was housed in a sound-blocking cabinet. Oh, and when Mourning started in 1968, the eight-story addition to the Mayo Building was just being finished.
They say that breaking up is hard to do, but it is coming soon for this group, as Mourning says she plans to retire at the end of 2014. "I'm not sure what I'll do after doing the same routine for so long," she says. "We're like a family here."
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