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Living with his mistake

May 2007 -- A new public service announcement features New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine urging television viewers to use seat belts, a simple measure that might have prevented him from nearly dying in a serious car crash in April. We applaud this public health effort, except for the fact that Corzine's ad attributes his survival to "a remarkable team of doctors," "a series of miracles," and a "ventilator" in the ICU where he spent eight days. Corzine totally ignores the Cooper University Hospital nurses who likely provided most of the skilled care that saved his life. His ad both reflects and reinforces the physician-centric media coverage his hospital stay received. We urge Gov. Corzine to set the record straight.

See the public service announcement (30 second mp4 film)

Corzine's PSA was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's not clear who created it, but obviously Corzine would have had final approval of the script (unlike many actors, for instance). In the 30-second spot, Corzine appears and speaks to the camera in an appropriately somber tone:

I'm New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and I should be dead. On April 12, I was critically injured in a car accident, where I lost over half my blood, and broke 15 bones in 18 places. I spent 8 days in intensive care where a ventilator was breathing for me. It took a remarkable team of doctors and a series of miracles to save my life--when all I needed was a seatbelt. I have to live with my mistake. You don't. Buckle up.

As Corzine finishes, we see how he will be "living with his mistake," as he rises from his seat and begins to walk across the room on crutches (right). On the whole, it seems like a pretty effective effort to encourage seat belt use.

However, the ad clearly tells the public that physicians provided all significant care to Gov. Corzine. This is especially striking for a patient who spent so much time in the ICU, and for an ad that specifically emphasizes the ICU--where elite nurses take the lead 24/7, running thousands of dollars of high-tech machinery, managing a highly complex regimen of medications and other treatments, and monitoring patients for the slightest changes in condition. Corzine mentions the ventilator, but who does he think monitored his tolerance to the ventilator? Who weaned him off the ventilator and taught him how to breathe without it? Corzine mentions all the blood he lost. Who replaced that blood? Who constantly monitored his progress, making adjustments, initiating treatments, alerting physicians and others if needed? Nurses did.

It's ironic that the ad text includes the word "team," yet tells the public that one small part of the team is the whole team. In fact, the health care "team" no doubt included nurses, paramedics, fire fighters, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, and many others. Of course, VIP patients like Corzine often attract a swarm of physician attention, but even so, nurses likely provided most of the skilled care that saved his life.

Thus, to ignore nurses completely and attribute survival to physicians, machines, and "miracles" is a triumph of social bias over reality. It shows that even patients who experience a great deal of skilled nursing care remain, first and foremost, products of the social and media environment that has formed them. They tend to see what they expect to see, and then to say what we expect to hear: physicians provide all important hospital care. It's hard not to wonder if nurses aren't going to get the credit--and accompanying resources--for saving real patients like Corzine until they get the credit in highly influential media products like "House."

Fixing this ad script would not be difficult, although we understand that the ad has been shot and edited. Indeed, it would merely require changing "doctors" to something like "health professionals," or "nurses, physicians, and other professionals."

We urge Gov. Corzine to consider how he might correct this damaging mistake.

Our letter-writing campaign is now closed, but you can read the letter many of us sent here

You can also snailmail two copies of this letter to:

Governor Jon Corzine
Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625      (Or call at 1-609-292-6000)
Or send it directly on his webform here

Secretary Mary Peters
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Thank you!

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