Unconventional Excellence

Mark Taylor, M.D., figured his casual clothing and gruff personality would protect him from winning a prestigious award; but despite his disheveled exterior, his peers recognized his outstanding medical contributions.

Mark Taylor, M.D., doesn't remember what inspired him to become a doctor. But the Mary Greeley Medical Center  general surgeon, who was awarded the Innovation and Excellence  in Medical Practice Award at the annual Physician Appreciation  Celebration in March, does recall growing up with a hardworking  family who prepared him for the rigors of medical practice.

"I grew up in a maverick family," Dr. Taylor says. "My mom was an English teacher, and my dad was a chemical engineering  professor and Navy pilot, so we traveled around a lot. We moved to Puerto Rico when I was young, but my parents were 'back-to-the-landers,' so eventually we moved to an Arkansas farm."

After his family was awarded the Food and Energy Self-Sufficiency Award by Mother Earth News for living closely with the land, Dr. Taylor dropped out of school to work at the family endeavor. He returned to mainstream academics after passing his General Educational Development test, attended Baylor College of Medicine from 1982 to 1986 and completed his general surgery residency at University of Illinois-Cook County Hospital in 1991.

Cornfields and Quonset Huts

Toward the end of his residency, Dr. Taylor was preparing to accept a position in Kentucky when he was offered an interview at Mary Greeley Medical Center. "I decided to interview here, but I was hesitant about moving to Iowa," he says. "I expected it to be full of cornfields and Quonset huts."

Mary Greeley Medical Center exceeded his expectations, and Dr. Taylor accepted the general surgery position. "There are so many people who contribute to our cooperative excellence," he says. "I'm successful because of the great teamwork. We provide better care than any other small town hospital in this nation."

During his Innovation and Excellence Award acceptance speech,

Dr. Taylor thanked everyone who contributes to the well-oiled system at Mary Greeley Medical Center, including his mentor, Dr. Leroy Johnson, whose former nurse, Judirae Obrecht, R.N., currently works for Dr. Taylor.

"When Dr. Johnson retired, he was so nice as to give me his nurse of 25 years," Dr. Taylor says. "I don't take her for granted. If she can't read my thoughts, I can't work as fast."

One of Dr. Taylor's biggest platforms is providing seamless communication between physicians and nurses. A doctor may be with a patient for 15 minutes, but nurses can be with patients for eight hours at a time.

"Nursing excellence is so critical, but so underappreciated; they're the chief soldiers of patient care, working at the grassroots level," he says. "Sometimes physicians feel this status hierarchy, where nurses and physicians have separate jobs. One of the things I learned is to intentionally blur boundaries, where whoever can do the job does it."

Blurring Boundaries

This November, Dr. Taylor will take his seventh trip to Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala, as part of a medical missionary team. Mary Greeley Medical Center helps with the trip, but most of the funding comes from the Hospital de la Familia Foundation and volunteers.

"Delivering medical care in the U.S. is a big business," Dr. Taylor says. "Guatemalans simply weren't born into that luxury. I get basic satisfaction delivering care to them because if we don't provide it, they won't get it."

To get to Nuevo Progreso, the team travels eight hours in a bus from Guatemala City, accompanied by Guatemalan military, equipped with automatic weapons. The country, which endured more than 30 years of civil war, is in desperate need of medical care. The medical missionaries are wellreceived, and Dr. Taylor does not feel his safety is in jeopardy.

Although most procedures Dr. Taylor performs in Guatemala are simple by U.S. standards, the lack of resources-intensive care units, blood banks, X-rays-results in challenges. "You don't realize how much you depend on safety nets back home," he says. "In Guatemala, there are fewer resources to deal with complications."

In order to provide flawless procedures, physicians take on tasks traditionally reserved for nurses and technicians. "We're working 12 to 16 hours a day, every day, eating black beans and rice," he says. "It makes you appreciate those breaks you get back home."

Some procedures, like femoral hernia repair, are rarely done in the U.S. but are common in Guatemala. Because Dr. Taylor performs dozens of these procedures during his trip, his U.S. patients benefit from his practice.

"These trips made me realize how fortunate we are," Dr. Taylor says. "We complain about cracks in our bath tile, but these people worry daily about feeding their kids, finding medical care, getting a job. It provides a new perspective."

Technology and Ownership Initiatives

General surgery is a specialty where each day is anything but a routine. "I wake up every morning and my job is different than the day before," he says. "I find that the more I worry about my patients, the better I feel. It's important that as physicians we touch our patients, but also that we allow them to touch us."

During his tenure, Dr. Taylor has promoted many technological advances, encouraging minimally invasive surgeries-thoracoscopy, laparoscopy and nuclear medicine localization. "Mary Greeley Medical Center has been very supportive of incorporating new technology into physicians' practices," he says.

Aside from incorporating technology into general surgery, Dr. Taylor teaches nursing in-services and promotes a physician ownership initiative. As economic times become more uncertain, medical professionals tend to devalue the traditional, altruistic mentality of practicing medicine.

Dr. Taylor reminds physicians about taking care of basic human needs. He prompts physicians to strive for the simplest and ultimate reward: satisfaction. "Doctors come out of medical school thinking about retirement and vacation, or they want to avoid dirty procedures," Dr. Taylor says. "But doctors hould do what needs to be done to touch patients' lives and provide the best possible care."

Dr. Taylor says ownership is not socialistic psychobabble. "It's about defining one's place in society, preserving market share and customer loyalty and earning the respect of peers," he says.

One-in-a-Million Love Affair

His surgery schedule keeps him busy, but Dr. Taylor likes to spend free time building World War II remote-control model airplanes. "It takes about 15 hours to build a plane that will fly for two minutes, but it's fun because I do it with guys from different walks of life," he says. "I also consider myself a long-distance bike rider. I've done Ride the Rockies and RAGBRAI, but it's tough to find time to train."

For most of his career, Dr. Taylor budgeted limited time for his personal life. He had been working closely with Allison Eness, P.A.C., for nearly 18 years when he decided to ask her out.

"Allison is a paragon for ‘do the right thing,'" Dr. Taylor says. "She's always giving of her life to other people. When she became available, I got brave and snatched her up. It's been a one-in-a-million love affair." They have now been married for two years, and the 6-foot 7-inch doctor spends time teaching basketball to his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lydia.

"I'm relatively unskilled, but I work at teaching her the basketball basics," he says. "Lydia scored her first basket on me the other day. She's going to be pretty good."