In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 18, 2022

‘In a Word’: Carmen Keller on finding courage, staying humble, more

By In the Loop
Carmen Keller

This column spotlights the kinds of people you think about when you think about Mayo Clinic. They've answered questions, serious and otherwise, so you can know them better.

You see them at bedsides. Behind desks. You may spot them walking down a hall or sprinting across a lobby, making every effort to look like they're walking. You see them talking quietly with a patient and family, or sitting down with you at a meeting. They may be friends, teammates or someone you know only by sight. But you're glad they're here. And it's reassuring to know that the health of our patients, our colleagues and the institution itself rests in their capable, friendly, earnest, caring and compassionate hands.

Carmen Keller has had a few accolades awarded to her in her previous places of employment, including a hallway in Rochester Public Utilities named Keller Boulevard in her honor. She also was recognized with an Outstanding Woman in Leadership Award from the city of Rochester.

Still, Keller thinks her current job as an allocation administrator in Mayo Clinic's Department of Development is the best job at Mayo Clinic or anywhere else in the world.

"I am humbled to manage the financial aspects of aligning benefactor philanthropic interests with Mayo Clinic's key priorities to fulfill our mission," she says. "My career has brought immeasurable joy and reward."

That career is going on 20 years at Mayo Clinic and continues to fulfill her.

"I have never looked back," she says. "I removed the rearview mirror and am loving this windshield of my future state. Every day is a joy and blessing."

One of my favorite things about Mayo Clinic: An integrated approach to solutions, whether it is a research study, patient experience or educational opportunity. I enjoy building meaningful relationships and learning something new every day. The fast-paced environment of health care keeps me engaged, learning and it constantly challenges me. I am deeply passionate about the mission, and my family has been personally touched by the compassionate, quality health care. Working in this field is a small way to pay it forward to other families. It is not only rewarding but energizing to be a part of this incredibly amazing organization. Mayo is a premier medical institution, and I am so thrilled to be an employee and patient. 

The single most important thing I did at work yesterday (or expect to do tomorrow): Collaborated with tremendous leaders within the institution to operationalize the generous gifts, per the benefactors' expressed wishes. The impact of these gifts is truly transformational, and it stretches across the institution. Many benefactors designate their gifts to help Mayo Clinic pave the future of medicine, making a meaningful impact on human health and advancing the mission of Mayo Clinic.

A book I would recommend, or one I want to read (and why): "The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness," by Dr. Amit Sood, who is a world-leading expert in resilience and stress management, and the creator of the Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind program. Dr. Sood developed an innovative approach to mind-body medicine by incorporating concepts within neurosciences, psychology, philosophy and spirituality. I had the distinct honor and privilege of working with Dr. Sood during his tenure and received his book.

Most treasured or best advice from a colleague at Mayo: My dear friend, Dr. David Ahlquist taught me to dream big, be honest, be humble and kind, never stop learning, put service before self, and love always. I was privileged to support Dr. Ahlquist during my tenure in Research Finance and during his time as the medical director of Development. I will forever treasure his remarkable wisdom and strength.

Most memorable Mayo moments: Surprisingly, receiving the Mayo Service Excellence Award on the same day we celebrated a remarkable benefactor gift to Mayo Clinic. I am so honored to be recognized by my peers for doing something I dearly love. Also, five years ago, my life went into a very unexpected tailspin when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Fear took over initially, but I quickly realized that with faith, the expertise of Dr. Robert Cima and his team, and the support of family, friends and colleagues, I would get through my cancer journey. I decided early on that cancer was only going to be a disruption in my life, and it was not going to control or take over my life. I continued to live life, embrace it and be thankful for everything. When I reflect on my cancer journey, what I remember most is my genuine caring and compassionate medical team and all of the beautiful, unexpected blessings from my family and colleagues. What I did gain from cancer: Courage. Fighting cancer gave me courage and strength I did not know even existed within me. I also gained an attitude of gratitude. Having a positive attitude and being thankful put things in perspective for me. I quickly learned I was never alone in the cancer journey. I found blessings. I rejoice every day that I am not only a cancer survivor but a cancer warrior. I am happy, alive and built to survive. Thanks to Dr. Cima and the team for saving my life.

If I could choose the "hold" music for Mayo Clinic: "Heal the World" by Michael Jackson. "Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me / And the entire human race."

Favorite space on campus this month: Reflective spaces that I treasure include the Center for the Spirit in the Mayo Building; Rochester Methodist Hospital Chapel; and Nathan Landow Atrium in the Gonda Building. I love meditating and praying in the Center for the Spirit. This peaceful and serene environment is definitely my happy place. It helps me cope with stressors large and small, and it helps affirm my purpose in life and speaks to my heart. My husband and I donated a Bible to the Center for the Spirit so others can enjoy and engage the spiritual dimension of their beliefs, faith, culture, values and religious practices for healing, well-being and growth.

People who inspire me: Mayo Clinic benefactors and several of our physician leaders. The talent and professionalism of these individuals are beyond compare. I speak from my heart when I tell you that the Mayo Clinic leadership team is amazing. They are courageous and innovative, positioning Mayo Clinic to significantly impact the lives of people across the globe for generations to come.

The most fun I've had at work this year: Let's go back in time when Mayo celebrated the success of a philanthropic campaign. It was a magnificent celebration honoring the benefactors of our Campaign for Mayo Clinic and included a special appearance by conjoined twins who were separated at Mayo Clinic several years earlier, when they were 6 months old. The event was one of life's treasured experiences.

Team Dr. Charlie or Team Dr. Will? Or Team Mother Alfred or Team Dr. W.W. Why? I am going to apply an Agile approach and multitask and participate in all teams. I know through collaboration and our RICH TIES values that my learning moments will be immense in all of these teams through a breadth and depth of knowledge, skill sets and talents. One of my favorite expressions is "Teamwork makes the dream work." Medicine is a team initiative, and we desperately need each other. I strive to be the kind of colleague who encourages others, lifts them up and celebrates them. Through it all, we pull together as a team, achieving more together than we ever could alone.

When patients reflect on their visit to Mayo Clinic, I hope they always remember: A healing, compassionate and unparalleled patient experience. Mayo Clinic placing patients at the center of safe and high-quality care. Keeping the needs of the patients at the center of every decision, compassion exemplified each day by Mayo staff.


Tags: Carmen Keller, In a Word, Staff Stories

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