For patients and employees alike, it’s common to hear that a surgeon operates on “orange days” or that a committee meets on the “second blue Tuesday” of each month. The story behind this designation provides a unique perspective on the Mayo Clinic decision-making process.
In its earliest days, Mayo Clinic was open seven days a week, since many patients were farm families, who only came to Rochester on the weekend. Changing social patterns and new labor laws led Mayo Clinic to switch to a five-day work week starting in July 1964. It became crucial to identify which days, on a rotating rather than a fixed basis, surgeons would be in the operating room and the consulting office.
This was the era when milk was delivered to homes on alternating days. Dairy companies provided a two-color calendar to let customers know which days they would receive milk. Here was a readily understood and accepted prototype that Mayo could follow. The colors to use on the calendar, however, proved to be a contentious issue. In fact, there was gridlock – many suggestions, but no agreement.
The issue worked its way through the committee system and up to the Board of Governors, then chaired by L. Emmerson Ward, M.D. With tongue firmly in cheek – and other pressing matters on the agenda, Cleeremans described how Dr. Ward “acknowledged that it certainly was appropriate that a decision of this magnitude be resolved by the Clinic’s governing board.”
To resolve the dispute, Dr. Ward surveyed the room and said, “I have always favored the colors of my alma mater, the University of Illinois. Unless there are objections, I propose orange and blue for the colors of the new surgical calendar.”
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