Does Religious Hospital Advertising Go Too Far?

A new, spirit-filled advertising campaign has taken over Nashville where I live and work. A local hospital system is invoking the word of the Lord to help lead patients through their doors. The almighty advertising slogan "Nothing shall be impossible", complete with photos of nurses and doctors joining in prayer, can now be spotted on billboards looming over local interstates.

Nashville is experiencing a bit of a hospital war these days. As popular Vanderbilt University Medical Center is scaling back budgets and laying off hundreds of employees, private hospital systems are opportunistically jumping on the University's weakened state, vying with each other for an increased stake in Nashville's healthcare market. So, in an effort to increase revenues, St. Thomas Hospital System is calling on the alpha and omega for help. 

Under the guise of consistency with the hospital's mission statement, being "one healing community", and its faith-based background, the St. Thomas Hospital System kicked off an advertising campaign they call "the purpose initiative". Administrators say the so called purpose initiative's intent is to explore the reason so many have chosen to work in healthcare, specifically healthcare with a faith tradition. The slogan of this initiative is the scripture Luke 1:37, "For with God nothing shall be impossible". 

Bohan Advertising, the agency employed by St. Thomas to create the divine campaign notes that the hospital did not explicitly ask for a faith based approach. The agency, however, "quickly realized" the distinction could be a way to differentiate the hospital system from other for-profit institutions. Hospital administrators themselves admit they are using scripture for advertising purposes. In a statement published in The Tennessean they say "the decision was not made lightly". Higher ups in the hospital go on noting "When we say 'with God nothing shall be impossible' we are not ignoring or insensitive to the fact that lives end, illnesses and injuries happen, and work is difficult". 

As I drive home from work (at an unashamedly for-profit hospital) everyday, I pass one of Nashville's omnipresent "Nothing shall be impossible" billboards. While I am a Bible believing Christian with complete faith in God's miraculous healing powers, the sight of the ad campaign makes me uneasy. I'm not one to be particularly politically correct or easily offended but the ad campaign gives off the illusion that if you become a patient at St. Thomas, God's healing power is on your side. 

To me, the scriptural slogan seems to imply an unintended opposite effect- it minimizes the power of God. My God cannot be contained within one hospital's walls. He does not work in ways that we can direct with publicity stunts, let alone ways we can ever hope to understand. He may choose to heal you as a patient at St. Thomas...but he may not. That's for him to decide, not for hospital admins looking for a raise to direct. 

I simply don't agree with exploiting faith and its potential healing powers to generate revenue. Although St. Thomas Hospitals are not for profit, they still have CEO salaries to pay, board members to please, and budgets to meet. Advertising comes with one intention- revenue. Don't get me wrong, I have never heard anything negative about the care the hospital provides. In fact, I completed one of my nursing school clinical rotations at what is now a St. Thomas Hospital and had nothing but good experiences at the facility. Unfortunately, however, the hospital's new holier than thou advertising tactics hit a nerve with me.

St. Thomas's recent advertising campaign is clearly designed to invoke images of hope- the paralyzed walking, cancer patients conquering, and accident victims surviving. Admittedly, it is the best ad campaign I have seen in a while. The photography is exceptional and powerful, and the religious bent has people talking. After all, I am sharing the hospital's story with over 30,000 healthcare providers here on the blog. This is what advertising is all about. But, profiting on the healing powers of the almighty God takes things to far. 

Do you agree with hospitals using religion to advertise their services?



I must say that this article put things into perspective that I hadn't thought about. I do agree that companies have to be careful & sensitive when advertising, and definitely not in a way that exploits God or the lives of those people on the billboards.

I will also share that while the billboards are gorgeous and encouraging, there is still a disconnect because all viewers do not know the stories behind the photos. My daughter is on several billboards in Nashville, in Smyrna, and coming from Cool Springs. It is the picture of a baby in a pair of male hands. People have no clue that she and her twin sister are preemies born 10 wks early, one weighing less than 3 lbs and the other less than 2 lbs. Every time I see her photo, it is a reminder of how merciful God is to allow both of them to live when that is not always the case in some situations . They are now 5 months and are doing so well. For that reason alone, I am grateful for the campaign.

Kimberley Proct...