In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 20, 2023

‘Voices of Mayo’: Tonya Rayburn on feeling the love as a new member of the Mayo family after sudden tragedy

By In the Loop

"Voices of Mayo" is a series that highlights Mayo staff and their stories, exploring their diverse backgrounds, the challenges they face, the opportunities they have been given, and their experiences at Mayo Clinic.

Tonya Rayburn had just accepted a position at Mayo Clinic and had not even started her role yet when tragedy struck. Her 23-year-old daughter passed away leaving behind Carter, Rayburn's 13-month-old grandson.

Rayburn, who joined Mayo Clinic as a nurse in Case Management in July 2022, shares her experience of being a new staff member and having her Mayo colleagues rally to support her as she adjusted to a new job, new home and being a new mom all over again.

Read her story.

I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. I have been a nurse for 17 years. I have held several positions in Emergency/ Trauma, ICU, and a charge nurse in Medical/Surgical. I was a superuser when Epic was brought to the St. Louis area. I was part of a pilot project in building a new state-of-the-art hospital where only 10 nurses were chosen to participate. I also was a clinical reviewer for 132 insurance companies nationwide and in Hawaii, working from home.

Carter aspires to join the Mayo family one day.

When the pandemic happened, my remote position of six years was re-routed, and I started working as a lead clinic operator doing corporate COVID-19 clinics. When the clinics were no longer needed, I decided to take my first-ever travel assignment. Little did I know then that it was the beginning of life-changing events.

My husband and I bought an RV and decided the adventure was ours. Four days later, Mayo called me with a job offer.

Mayo found me. As a nurse, I knew of Mayo and its prestige in research. However, I wasn't aware it was a hospital with clinical opportunities. A call that I normally wouldn't answer started a bond and gave me a new opportunity in my career. I hadn't even applied for the position until the third interview and had no idea what path the recruiter had in mind for me.

I accepted the job. Five weeks later, my 23-year-old daughter died tragically leaving us to raise our 13-month-old grandson, Carter.

I buried my daughter, became a new mom full-time, and completed my contract in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then, we headed to Minnesota in our RV. We lived in it for two months until we found our wonderful Victorian farm home 40 minutes from Mayo. And we absolutely love it.

It was very challenging, to say the least.

The decision to continue to relocate was difficult however, Mayo helped me along the way.

I have formed great relationships with my colleagues who have been great resources for me as a new parent after 22 years of not having an infant full-time. 

Tonya Rayburn

Not only was Minnesota a new state for both of us, but the Mayo campus was also an entirely new state of its own. The peer relationships I have formed have been wonderful. Being new parents again after all these years, not having family here and no friends close by, my new co-workers have made me feel more than welcome.

I have formed great relationships with my colleagues who have been great resources for me as a new parent after 22 years of not having an infant full-time. My co-workers have supported and encouraged me when I never asked or showed that I needed it.

The support — especially from one specific co-worker, Lucy — made it all manageable and gave us hope that we made the right decision to move here.  

I share this newfound friendship with many people because it's a rarity to see families come together and stay together. My husband and I had concert tickets two months after we arrived in Minnesota, and we had no one to ask to babysit. Lucy overheard me talking and said that if I didn't mind him learning a new language, she would babysit. I said, it's a new adventure.

Mayo worked with me and made me see that family was important to an employer.

Tonya Rayburn

She told me she had a big family. They were all going to babysit, and he would possibly learn a new language as they are from Cuba and Venezuela. I thought she was joking. Well, I thought wrong. My husband and I dropped off Carter and found a connection within a family that we hadn't witnessed in a long time. When I say we appreciated what they did together for us and Carter, it's deeper than that. There was so much joy and love in the room from children, sisters, brothers and in-laws that we knew he was right at home. This encounter once again was a godsend and gave us hope that we were not alone.  

As a newcomer to Mayo, I wish I could express to those who grew up in “Mayo country” what Mayo is to the areas I came from. It's the Hollywood of hospitals. When you are not from Rochester or the surrounding areas — and you know of Mayo by research, by media, by professional organizations in your career — and they find you and offer you a job, it's like being starstruck.

At Mayo, I've learned to be flexible. When I get discouraged because there's a change or have an overwhelming feeling because our patient responsibility is wearing me down, I think back and realize often that God put me here for a reason. Life has disappointments. However, disappointments lead to change. And change leads to inner strength.

In October, I had to return to St. Louis to complete our move and attend the celebration of life for my daughter. In February, we returned for her headstone placement, Mayo worked with me and made me see that family was important to an employer.

My story hasn't been easy to explain. However, explaining what brought me to Mayo and what made us new parents has given me insight that God's plan is never complete. His plan is a continuous road. It's up to us to decide whether we make it through the curves and hills and can still smile.


Tags: Staff Stories, Voices of Mayo

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