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Mining the Past for ‘Golden Nuggets’: Cleveland Clinic

May 27, 2021 • Paul Woolf

Here at History Factory, our team digs into an organization’s past to find an object or anecdote that gets at its very DNA. We call it a golden nugget. It could be a handwritten note by the founder, or a rough sketch of an early prototype, or an excerpt from a memoir. Sometimes we find it instantly. Sometimes it emerges after considerable research and a touch of good fortune. It always proves incredibly valuable, serving as the cornerstone of a variety of heritage-based activations: anniversary themes, exhibits, social posts, designed assets, and more. Here’s a short story about one such nugget.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Clinic archives

The simple photograph from an old scrapbook was taken during World War I in battle-torn northern France. Handwritten words inscribe the black-and-white image of men on horseback among a stand of trees: “The Forest of Rouen — where Ed and I, then Bunts and I used to walk and dream dreams.”

The author was George Crile, M.D., and his fellow walkers and dreamers were Dr. William (Ed) Lower and Dr. Frank Bunts. The three physicians had put their medical practice in Cleveland, Ohio, on hold to serve in the Army as field surgeons in France. In the evenings, after long days of caring for the wounded, the trio would escape to the forest to find respite and talk about how they could bring what they were learning in the field back to their practice at home.

Wartime hospitals like the one in Rouen had a different model of care than traditional facilities,  involving the collaboration of specialists to look after injured soldiers. Rather than one doctor per patient, this collaborative model called for multiple specialists to work together, affording the patient a superior level of care and expertise to help their recovery. Crile and his colleagues were impressed by this model of efficiency and effectiveness and discussed implementing it in Cleveland at the end of the war.

What began as a dream thousands of miles from Cleveland in a forest in France became reality when Crile, Bunts, Lower and a fourth physician, internist Dr. John Phillips, who joined the threesome on their return from Rouen, opened the doors to Cleveland Clinic in 1921. At the facility’s opening, Crile said, “If the founders may look into the future and see an institution carrying out these designs … their ambition will have been fulfilled.”

Fast forward 100 years, and Cleveland Clinic is now a $10 billion global healthcare powerhouse, employing nearly 70,000 caregivers and serving more than 9 million patients annually. And that evocative photo with Crile’s caption, now preserved in the Cleveland Clinic archives, has become the visual inspiration for an interactive centennial exhibit celebrating what happens when big dreams come to pass.

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