In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 24, 2022

Mark Litzow, M.D., on the fragility of life, lessons in resilience from patients, more

By In the Loop
Kris and Dr. Mark Litzow

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.

Mark Litzow, M.D., was born at Saint Marys Hospital and grew up in Rochester. It seemed natural to return to his hometown and Mayo Clinic for his residency and fellowship after graduating from medical school at The University of Chicago.

Dr. Litzow has now spent 42 years working at Mayo Clinic, and it's his colleagues and the patients he cares for that he loves most about being here.

"First are the wonderful patients I care for with acute leukemia who often end up needing a bone marrow transplant," he says. "I am always amazed at the resilience they and their family show in the face of the life-threatening illness and treatment they go through. They often ask me how I am doing when I walk in the room for a visit with them before I even have a chance to ask them. Second, are the Mayo staff from every work area who are always ready to help figure out the best solution to a patient care issue."

One of my favorite things about Mayo Clinic: The culture we have here and the willingness of everyone to help each other. It inspires me every day.

The single most important thing I did at work yesterday (or expect to do tomorrow): Asking patients how they are holding up in the face of the life-threatening illness they are facing.

A book I would recommend, or one I want to read (and why): I don't have one book that comes to mind, but I am a history buff. Since my preteen years in the early 60s, I have read books and articles on the Civil War, the seminal event in our nation's history. The early 1960s was the 100-year anniversary of the war. We have seen in recent years how relevant it still is to our national discourse.

Mayo Clinic has taught me: Two things. It takes a village to care for the complex patients who come here, and I am so appreciative of my wonderful colleagues. Second is the fragility of life. Nothing is guaranteed to us in this life, and the course of our life can change in an instant. I try to remember this every day if I can.

Most treasured or best advice from a colleague at Mayo: A specific piece of advice doesn't come to mind, but the colleague at Mayo who had the biggest influence on me was H. Clark Hoagland, M.D., a fellow hematologist who had a distinguished career here at Mayo and inspired me to go into hematology. He guided many of my career decisions along the way. I knew him growing up here in Rochester long before I ever decided to become a doctor.

Most memorable Mayo moment: When I received the Distinguished Mayo Clinician award in 2010. I never expected it.

If I could choose the "hold" music for Mayo Clinic: "Joy" by George Winston.

Favorite space on campus this month: The corridor on the Saint Marys Campus by the Edith Graham Mayo Courtyard with the pictures of the Sisters of Saint Francis, leaders of Saint Marys Hospital from the beginnings of Saint Marys and Mayo Clinic. Their dedication and leadership are key to what Mayo has become. I am moved every time I walk down that corridor.

People who inspire me: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and their efforts to use nonviolent civil disobedience to try to make the world a better place. We could use more of these efforts now.

The most fun I've had at work this year: Being able to laugh and share humorous stories with colleagues on the floors where I work.

Team Dr. Charlie or Team Dr. Will? Dr. Charlie and Dr. Will. When I was an internal medicine resident, I was on a softball team made up of fellow residents, and our team name was "Will and Charlies." From what I know of them, they complemented each other well in building Mayo Clinic into what it is today.

When patients recall their visit to Mayo Clinic, I hope they remember: We care for them as a whole person and not just to treat their medical problems.


Tags: Dr. Mark Litzow, Employee Stories, In a Word

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