Thursday, January 23, 2014

As we consider the growing discussion involving the capture of the University of Illinois' reputation to market the wares of a particular medical device manufacturer, we should pause and reflect how, in doing so, the manufacturer also denigrated the standing of clinicians.

As doctors will tell you, the day they are granted their first white coat is a meaningful, indeed sacred, occasion.  It is symbolic of their taking on a lifelong commitment to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.  Other medical professions, too, wear the coat as a symbol of their commitment to the public good.  The public, in turn, views that symbol as emblematic of that sacred trust.  We look up to and respect people wearing the white coats.  We know they have devoted themselves to our well-being and have engaged in extensive training for our good.

When a non-clinician appears in a white coat in an advertisement designed to hawk the wares of medical device company, it is a violation of that sacred trust.  Such was the case in the University of Illinois-daVinci advertisement in the New York Times.  Here's the ad:

As pointed out by one of the commenters in yesterday's blog post:

According to the university web page, one of the 'team' members is the "Media and Administrative Contact."

I confirmed this by viewing the site.

I imagine this non-clinician was put in the advertisement in that garb to enhance the gender mix presented to the public.  This is particularly important given the company's desire to expand the use of its surgical robot into the OB/GYN field, something that has received adverse publicity.  Indeed, some uses of the daVinci robot in this field have been decried by the head of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In mentioning this advertising technique, I mean to impose no blame on the person involved.  After all, we don't even know if she knew how this picture would be used by Intuitive Surgical.

Clearly, some senior clinical leader the University of Illinois was responsible for this ad.  The idea that any such person would add to his or her other Code of Conduct violations by permitting a degradation of the sacred trust inherent in the wearing of a white coat--especially in support of a commercial enterprise--is a sad statement about that person's moral code.


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