Consider this: Your employer gives you a year off from your normal job responsibilities. Would you volunteer to become a hospital patient?

That’s just what Distinguished Professor of Marketing Leonard Berry is planning to do. For his sabbatical, he’ll be spending five months as a visiting scientist at the famous Mayo Clinic. For part of that time, he’ll go undercover as a “mystery patient,” to assess the quality of healthcare services provided there.

“In many ways, healthcare is America’s most important industry,” says Berry who holds the M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership. “Healthcare expenditures devour a big chunk of our nation’s GDP, and the level of health services impacts the quality of life of each of us.

Berry approached Mayo Clinic more than a year and a half ago with a proposal to conduct on-site research into their delivery of healthcare. He will study Mayo’s operations at the original clinic in Rochester, Minn., and at a second clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I thought studying the clinic would be a true growth experience for me, while offering the chance to make a real contribution to the industry,” he explains.

When Berry first arrives at the clinic, before anyone on the staff gets to know him, he’ll pose for two days as a real patient with a fictitious disease. Later, he’ll observe and interview patients, physicians and nurses.

Research at the Mayo Clinic will form a pilot for a larger empirical study on healthcare service quality, which Berry will conduct after he returns from his faculty development leave. “Of course, one of my goals is to share what I learn at the Mayo Clinic with Texas A&M’s medical school and the local medical community,” he says.