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Monday, October 27, 2008

Med School: What’s in a Name?

There are 126 medical school in the United States and every one of them has a name. Most of the time the medical school name name is derived from the parent university. The medical school is just one of several ‘tenant colleges’ within the larger institution: business school, law school, veterinary school, etc. The Ohio State University College of Medicine is one such example.

There are 19 USA medical schools which have been named (or renamed) as the result of a gift, such at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. In 2002 a $75M donation made it all happen. Back in 1941 Wake Forest University cut the ribbon on Bowman Gray School of Medicine after a $750,000 act of philanthropy. 58 years later it was redubbed Wake Forest University School of Medicine to distance Wake Forest from Bowman Gray, the former president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Change happens!

In the past decade alone there have been 10 renamed medical schools. The two largest transactions were for $200M each: UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College. I imagine the family members of these namesakes enjoy prompt appointments and convenient parking. Not jealous, mind you, just an observation.

Not every proposed cash branding deal makes it to the sign shop. The School of Public Health at the University of Iowa politely declined a $15M offer from for-profit health insurer Wellmark because of perceived ethical conflicts. Child advocates successfully blocked provocative teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch from staking out the emergency center at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Their angry protest lamented, “Given the company’s appalling history of targeting children with sexualized marketing and clothing, no public health institution should be advertising Abercrombie & Fitch.” You know something? I’ve seen the A&F; ads in the magazines and those buff models wear practically nothing…where’s the merchandise anyway?

Authors commenting in a recent JAMA editorial worry that corporate branding of medical institutions may confuse health consumers and lead to misinformed choices. Probably so – I don’t think I could force myself to visit a doctor at the Coors Light Medical Center because I’m a Budweiser kind of guy. All kidding aside, state legislatures and taxpayers may revolt if they discover that public corporations are willing to fund highly visible health resources. Right now medical schools don’t need any new reasons to discourage critical government support for research and patient care.

Do any of these practices bother you? I would like to know.

SOURCE: JAMA, October 22, 2008, pages 1937-1938.

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Posted by: Bill Lloyd MD at 11:14 am


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