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Are you man enough to talk about your erectile dysfunction with a bunch of nurses?

March 23, 2005 -- Boston Medical Group (BMG), a company that runs clinics in several nations specializing in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED), has recently been running radio ads in the US that assure potential patients that they will not need to discuss their ED with nurses. Specifically, the ads feature an ED "patient" who states that he does not want to talk with a "bunch of nurses," and an announcer then assures listeners that at BMG, he will not. This ad may well reflect the company's overall marketing strategy (which is clear from its web site) to reassure men who do not wish to discuss their ED with women, rather than any intentional disrespect for nurses. But the ad may still encourage many listeners to regard nurses as a gaggle of incompetent or insensitive females. After letters from three people, BMG has vowed to pull the ad.

Mary Chaffee, RN, ScD(h), MS, FAAN heard the BMG ad on about February 22, on WTOP radio (1500 AM) in Washington, DC. She said the ad included an announcer noting that sex was an important part of relationships. At some point a "patient" explained that he knew he needed help for his ED problem, but that he wanted to see a physician. He wanted care at a place where he would not have to discuss his problem with "a bunch of nurses." The announcer returned to assure patients that BMG was such a place.

According to the BMG web site, the company is a "global alliance of medical clinics" focusing on ED and premature ejaculation, with affiliated clinics in the United States, Europe and Latin America. BMG has clinics in Spain, Holland, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. BMG claims that it is "considered to be the world's largest group specializing in the treatment of men's sexual health problems," with over 300,000 "successfully" treated patients in the last three years. The "patient brochure" available on BMG's web site, under the heading "respect for your privacy," assures potential patients that BMG clinics feature "separate waiting rooms" and are "usually staffed by male doctors and medical assistants." The brochure also notes that BMG has an "all male phone counseling service." BMG's judgment seems to be that its potential patients will respond best to promises of an environment that is as free of females as possible. Whether or not that is correct--our understanding is that many ED patients actually prefer dealing with nurse practitioners about such issues, rather than physicians--it is not a difficult strategy to understand, and it appears that the company is doing pretty well with it.

However, if that is what the company really means, then it should simply indicate that in its radio ads as it does on its web site, and not using nursing as a marker for gender. Not all nurses are female. Ads like this show disrespect for existing male nurses and discourage men from entering the profession. Moreover, many listeners may have the impression that the "patient" does not wish to discuss his ED with nurses because they are not sensitive or competent enough to handle it (which is, of course, false). This impression is reinforced by the reference to a "bunch" of nurses--as if nurses were an annoying flock of geese that needed to be shooed away, rather than highly skilled professionals. Health care entities and major radio stations like WTOP should review such ads to ensure that they do not include disrespect for a profession that is currently struggling with a shortage that is taking lives.

Mary Chaffee and Diana Mason, RN, PhD, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Nursing, spearheaded this effort by sending letters to the company over the past couple weeks. When the Center sent our letter to the Boston Medical Group this morning, they called back a couple hours later to say that they were pulling their ad. A statement from the company is pending. Thanks to Drs. Chaffee and Mason for taking the lead on this campaign! We are happy the Boston Medical Group got the message and pulled the ad without the need for a wide scale protest.

Note: The company said that while they are pulling the ad as quickly as possible, because of the long lead time in radio ad buys and its wide distribution, the ad could run for as long as an additional month.

The letter we sent to Boston Medical Group is below:

Dear Boston Medical Group:

I am writing to urge you to end all use of radio ads that feature a man who states that he doesn't want to discuss his erectile dysfunction (ED) with "a bunch of nurses." Why would I object to this depiction of nurses? First of all, it appears that your ad is really directed at men who fear discussing their ED with women, and that you are using "a bunch of nurses" as shorthand to mean "a bunch of women." The ad may encourage many listeners to regard nurses as a gaggle of incompetent or insensitive females. If what the company really means is that you want to assure men that they only talk to men, then it should simply indicate that in its radio ads as it does on its web site, and not use nursing as a marker for gender.

Whether or not men really prefer to discuss these issues with men--our understanding is that many ED patients actually prefer dealing with nurse practitioners about such issues, rather than physicians--not all nurses are female. Ads like this show disrespect for existing male nurses and discourage men from entering the profession. Moreover, many listeners may have the impression that the "patient" does not wish to discuss his ED with nurses because they are not sensitive or competent enough to handle it (which is, of course, false). This impression is reinforced by the reference to a "bunch" of nurses--as if nurses were an annoying flock of geese that needed to be shooed away, rather than highly skilled professionals.

Many who display negative images of nurses doubt that such images can really harm the nursing profession. However, as public health professionals at the University of Southern California's Hollywood, Health and Society project and elsewhere can tell you, entertainment media do affect how people think and act with regard to health issues. A 2000 JWT Communications study found that US youngsters in primary and secondary school got their most striking impression of nursing from the fictional television show "ER," and consistent with that show's physician-centric messages, the youngsters wrongly thought nursing was a lowly technical field for "girls." A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that "ER"'s message is so influential that one-third of their viewers use information from the show to make health care decisions. (Please see the research here: www.truthaboutnursing.org/faq/hollywood_research.html)

A key reason that nursing is in its current state--understaffed, underfunded and underempowered--is that the work of nurses is undervalued by the general public and health care decision makers, all of whom are consumers of media and advertising.

Health care entities such as Boston Medical Group should ensure that they do not include disrespect for a profession that is currently struggling with a shortage that is taking lives. Please be part of the solution to the nursing shortage by ending this ad campaign, and help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.

Thank you,

Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
Executive Director, The Truth About Nursing
Adjunct Faculty, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing
203 Churchwardens Rd.
Baltimore, MD USA 21212-2937
office 1-410-323-1100
fax 1-410-510-1790
ssummers@truthaboutnursing.org
www.truthaboutnursing.org

 

 

 

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