Mayo surgeon stumbles upon unique treasures from patients

Published 9:00 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

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Some people collect cars. Some collect photographs. Others art.

Rebekkah Frunzac serves as president/medical executive committee chair for Mayo Clinic Health Systems in Austin and Albert Lea. Provided

Rebekkah Frunzac, a general surgeon and president/medical executive committee chair for Mayo Clinic Health System is Albert Lea and Austin, is in the latter category.

How that happened was entirely happenstance thanks to her career.

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“As Mayo Clinic employees we are not allowed to accept gifts that have financial value,” Frunzac said. “But the handmade gifts, Ithink, are perfectly acceptable to receive.”

Frunzac even has a small collection of handmade artwork from her patients.

’The first piece that I got was when I was in training, and it was actually a very beautiful stained-glass piece that a patient made that I received,” she said.

And over the course of her career she’s received numerous children’s drawings, a cross-stitched piece of artwork, a painted vase, a crocheted frog and pillows.

While she’s not an art aficionado, she keeps the pieces, as she felt they reflected a relationship between Frunzac and a patient, one that was meaningful enough to the patient that they would take time to produce artwork.

“They’re precious because they’re handmade, those patients took the time to show their gratitude through their own talents,” she said. “I think that’s more meaningful than anything that can be bought, and so that’s why I keep them.”

The items also serve as a reminder for why she became a physician originally: To serve people in need and build relationships through her ability to provide medical care.

It’s her belief that when patients have a good outcome, they may feel grateful.

“I think it’s pretty common, especially in community practice, for patients to feel a special connection with their doctors,” she said. “As a surgeon, that connection is particularly deep and sacred because the patient who trusts the surgeon puts his or her life in that person’s care.”

And people show gratitude in different ways, including gifts.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s something that necessarily started at a specific point, but as a physician it’s not uncommon for patients to provide gifts — including hand-made gifts — and some of those are very precious because they’re unique and not anything that has a financial value, but an emotional value to that person and also that I’ve found to be quite precious,” Frunzac said.

Handmade gifts also served as a reminder to her of the privilege she felt in doing the work she did while impacting “talented, wonderful” people.

She also wanted to thank people for their kindness and time.

Frunzac has been practicing for seven years.