Checking up on Checkup Day
September 20, 2005 -- Today is the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' (HHS) 2005 "Take a Loved One for a Checkup Day," a national campaign to improve the health of minority communities by encouraging people to visit health professionals. This year, HHS changed the name of the campaign in response to nurses' concerns that the prior one, "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day," excluded the advanced practice nurses (APRNs) who play a critical role in the primary care of the campaign's target populations. As the campaign day approaches, it's worth briefly examining the way in which HHS and its partners in government, the media and the health care community have reacted to the name change. HHS itself explains the change on its web site as an effort to acknowledge the efforts of all health professionals engaged in community health, whether they are "doctors, nurses, dentists, physician's assistants, or other health providers." This recognition of nurses and others is commendable, though it does not tell people that APRNs function in a way that is comparable to physicians in primary care settings. HHS has also given its partners the discretion to use any name they wish. Tom Joyner, whose ABC Radio show reaches millions, and who ignored nurses' concerns about the old "doctor" name, appears to have stuck with that name. On the other hand, it appears that many other governmental, media and health entities have gone with the new HHS name.
The HHS web site explains that "[t]he campaign is launching with a new name in 2005, Take a Loved One for a Checkup Day, to emphasize the importance of preventative screenings and to acknowledge all health professionals involved in keeping communities healthy whether they be doctors, nurses, dentists, physician's assistants, or other health providers." The site also notes that "[s]ince our name change is new, Checkup Day events this September will be held under a variety of names. We encourage partners across the community to customize the campaigns to reach their communities. Some organizations will continue to use Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day. Whatever the name, we all strive to meet the same goal." In addition, the HHS site has not been completely scrubbed of statements that suggest that only "doctors" matter in primary care, though we hope that will change over time. Tom Joyner, whose syndicated radio show reaches some eight million listeners weekly, has been an honorary chair of the campaign in past years, though it's not clear if he is this year. His web site suggests that he is sticking with the old name, which is not surprising given that he completely ignored the hundreds of messages nurses sent to him and HHS personnel last year asking for the change. However, it appears that many other campaign partners--seemingly the majority--are using the new "Checkup Day" name, and that some also take the opportunity to mention the contributions of APRNs (see examples 1, 2).
We commend HHS again for changing the name, and for using the associated materials to underline the important role that the whole range of health providers play in the health of minority communities. HHS' inclusion of "nurses" in its materials recognizes the vital contributions of registered nurses in primary care, though the materials do not seem to specify that APRNs play roles that are comparable to those of physicians, or say anything specific about APRNs. Of course, APRNs are nurses, and it is critical not to fall into the trap--as too many have--of suggesting that APRNs are worthy and important but other nurses are not. Some might see mentioning both RNs and APRNs as divisive. On the other hand, given the limited understanding most of society has of registered nurses in primary care, the list of health professionals HHS has on its site may suggest to some that they should go to the physician's office where a nurse is helping out, and while there, they might have an important interaction with a physician's assistant. The site's specific statement that some organizations will continue to use the "doctor" name makes it sound like HHS encountered opposition from someone who felt that--contrary to HHS' own views--the campaign had to continue to suggest that only physicians mattered in primary care. It's unfortunate that the HHS site seems to condone this, but we hope that if the new name catches on, the old one will eventually go away. And of course, there are many other possibilities for names that would not exclude nurses, such as "Take a Loved One to the Health Provider Day."
We thank those who have embraced the name change, and urge everyone to help advance "Checkup Day"'s goal of improving the health of minorities.
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