Friday, January 16, 2015

When a Name Isn't Just a Name But an Advertisement

Mornings often bring a plethora of information to me and I sometimes find it hard sorting out the wheat from the chaff, but today one article in the New York Times, on naming medical schools, struck a responsive chord. It did so because I, too, as the author, found this practice of renaming medical schools after big donors not only onerous, but a disservice to the school and those who teach there.

Making billions in whatever industry, the current crop of overly-wealthy, fame-seeking individuals is now seeking immortality in one of the only ways they can--getting a school named for them. What have they done to deserve this most special honor? Sure, they opened their checkbooks and probably took a sizable charitable tax deduction for it (does a school naming constitute goods or services for tax purposes?), but how do they come to believe they should have their names plastered on the diplomas of new physicians?

Residency interviewer: "Ah, what medical school did you go to?"

Applicant: "The Mickey Mouse School of Medicine, sir."

Residency interviewer: "Ah, fine school and they do such good work in CGI animation."

You can find it laughable if someone demanded that the school (for an incredibly sizable donation) be renamed the "Hercule Poirot School of Medicine" or the "Jacques Clouseau School of Medicine?" The joke, of course, is in knowing who these characters actually are and it's probably more obvious than some of the names of the people who have had medical schools emblazoned with their names.

These medical school namers, known only to those who follow the WSJ or the stock market, would have no meaning in the context of medical education. But, oh, the grandeur it would impart to the family name! And, think of the wonderful dinner parties where you could just sprinkle that into the conversation sub rosa. Delightful, just delightful. Monsieur Gustave would relish the idea.

This may be the first article I've seen written on the topic, but it isn't the first time I got a bit antsy when I saw something similar on the wall of a hospital Admitting Office. Patients were seated all around the long room with its many clerk alcoves and the circular front desk where everyone had to register.

Behind every single one of those people who were registering was large, bronze lettering on the wall behind them. It couldn't be missed because it was adjacent to the front door. The letter said something like: "The XYZ Pharmacy of (name of town where it was located)." Why was this blatant advertisement for a pharmacy plastered on the wall of the Admissions Office?

Wasn't it a conflict of interest to name a pharmacy right there? Weren't these people going to get prescriptions and where would they go to fill them? Yes, the XYZ Pharmacy probably, if they didn't have one already. It had to get into their unconscious and stick like glue to come up at some time in the future.

Why not just the name of the person or family that gave the funds for this hospital addition? Wouldn't that have been more in keeping with the mission of the hospital? Wouldn't that have been the "charitable" thing to do. Ah, remember the parable about the Pharisees and their posturing about giving charity? You don't have to be religious to see the meaning here.

No, money bought that everlasting ad on the wall at this hospital and it would remain there until, and unless, a new addition was built. Isn't a "charitable" contribution to a nonprofit hospital just dandy? I think it's more of a embarrassment to both the hospital and that pharmacy, but that's me.

What have you seen today that gives you pause? The name sales are on as the 1%ers drive their monikers ever deeper into our culture.