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Duck Soup

December 2005 -- Mattel, the world's leading toy maker, has just released as part of its Furryville Collections (Series 2) a small doll called the "Nurse Quacktitioner." The doll is a soft duck wearing a white lab coat and a white cap with a red heart on the front. Furryville dolls are on sale at Target, Wal-Mart, and other major toy retailers and supermarkets, just in time for the holiday season. Selling a doll called "Nurse Quacktitioner" would seem to reflect little regard for nurses or public health. That's because the name suggests that nurse practitioners (NPs) are "quacks," a term that has long been understood to refer to untrained persons who pretend to be physicians and dispense medical treatment. Mattel says it did not occur to the company that this doll would be taken as an attack on NPs, whose main professional stereotype has been that they are, uh, untrained persons who pretend to be physicians. Mattel--which is also responsible for Barbie--has trademarked the name "Nurse Quacktitioner." That, along with the fact that the doll is a duck, suggests that the name was carefully considered. In any case, while Mattel has stopped making and distributing the dolls because of the standard limited production of this collectible, we are working with the company and major retailers to see that the adorable Nurse Quacktitioners leave the market quickly. We are urging Mattel to recall the dolls from retailers, which it has not yet agreed to do; urging retailers to stop selling the dolls, or sell them back to Mattel, as Wal-Mart is willing to do; and urging everyone to find a lawful, environmentally sound way to rid the world of the dolls. Read our analysis, or see Mattel's initial response and the current status of our campaign.

Nurse practitioners are highly trained health professionals who practice autonomously in a great variety of settings, from major teaching hospitals to rural clinics, from military bases to quick clinics. The typical NP has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in nursing--which means at least six years of college education--and many NPs have doctoral level education. In addition, most NPs have many years of experience as bedside RNs. A vast body of research shows that NP care is at least as good as that provided by physicians. NPs specialize in many different health fields, including family practice, pediatrics, intensive care, emergency care, oncology, cardiology, mental health, surgery, and many others. NPs (like all nurses) take a holistic approach to care, and thus they are especially skilled at cost-effective preventative care, management of chronic disease, and health maintenance. Because many NPs focus on underserved poor and rural communities, they are a vital health resource for millions of people who would otherwise receive little or no health care at all. The NP community is now seriously considering moving toward a doctoral degree as its standard educational requirement. Some physician groups have persistently questioned the safety of NP care and fought to restrict their scope of practice, arguing that they require physician "supervision." Physician objections to NPs often seem to be motivated by some mix of ignorance and economic self interest; we are aware of no significant scientific evidence to support their concerns. In view of all this, the suggestion that NPs are "quacks" seems like an uninformed but potentially dangerous schoolyard taunt. Indeed, the term "nurse quacktitioner" is so distressingly catchy that we hesitate to make the product more widely known even for purposes of trashing it, for fear that those lacking maturity and wit may adopt the term and try to bring it into common usage. Shhh.

We note that another doll in the Furryville Series 2 is the "Koalagist," a cute little koala wearing what seems to be some kind of white overall health uniform with a red heart on the front hip pocket, surgical cap and shoe covers and a little stethoscope. We can imagine an argument that this doll resembles some kind of physician, and so we should not be so concerned about the Nurse Quacktitioner, since other health professions are also taking a little gentle ribbing. However, we are not aware that any group of physicians has spent decades fighting the stereotype that they resemble koalas.

The Nurse Quacktitioner is a problem because research shows that even fictional media products affect how people think and act with regard to health care. In particular, it is unfortunate that a product that seems to be directed mainly at girls who have yet to choose their careers presents this mocking vision of nurses. In view of the nursing shortage that continues to claim lives, selling this doll is not a constructive way to make money.

Mattel's initial response is below:

Mattel, Inc.
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, California 90245
Phone: 1 (310) 252-2000
Facsimile: 1 (310) 252-2180

December 9, 2005

To Whom It May Concern:

We respect the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Center for Nursing Advocacy, nurse practitioners and any other related parties. It has come to our attention that we may have unintentionally offended these groups by the Furryville™ Collectibles Nurse Quacktitioner™ character.

Furryville™ is a world of charming, adorable plush animal characters with cute names that are a fun and whimsical play-on-words. When naming the Nurse Quacktitioner™ toy, Mattel did not consider that it might be offensive to nurse practitioners as the character is in no way intended to project a stereotype or connote a negative image of the profession. Please note that production of the Nurse Quacktitioner™ toy ceased earlier this year and will not be renewed.

Mattel is very aware of the meaningful difference nursing professionals make in the lives of children and their families. Through our philanthropic association with the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA and our support of the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, we know that healthcare professionals have a profound impact on children and their families in times of illness and distress.

Again, we regret that this product's name was upsetting to nurse practitioners, and we appreciate your understanding that this was an unintentional event.


Valerie Rodgers
Consumer Relations
Mattel, Inc.

Center calls for boycott of Mattel products after company refuses to withdraw "Nurse Quacktitioner" dolls from market

December 21, 2005 -- Mattel, the world's leading toy maker, has notified the Center that the company refuses to withdraw or buy back from retailers its Furryville "Nurse Quacktitioner" dolls. The doll's name suggests that nurse practitioners (NPs) are "quacks," untrained persons who pretend to be physicians and dispense medical treatment. We understand that, as part of the normal practice for such "collectible" dolls, Mattel will no longer make or distribute the dolls. And the company has expressed regret for “upsetting” NPs. We appreciate that, but as long as the dolls remain for sale, Mattel will continue to make money from them, and the dolls' pernicious effects will continue. Mattel’s assurances that it values nurses and its commendable support for children’s hospitals are irrelevant to the anti-NP message consumers receive from the dolls. The Center has gotten Wal-Mart's agreement to sell the dolls back to Mattel. But because Mattel refuses to buy them back, the Center urges everyone to:

  1. boycott all Mattel products, including Fisher-Price, American Girl, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Barbie items;
  2. if you wish, buy the Nurse Quacktitioner dolls (Mattel does not profit from this--they have made all their money already by selling them to retailers), render them unusable with permanent marker or in some other non-violent way, and return them to: Valerie Rodgers, Consumer Relations; MS# M1-1426; Mattel, Inc.; 333 Continental Blvd., El Segundo, CA 90245 (and please let us know how many you sent back); and
  3. See our January 13, 2006 update on this campaign

    Thank you!

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