Take it from social psychologists (and marketers): the primacy effect—your first impressions of a person, place, predicament, etc.—often carry disproportionate heft. With that in mind, it’s not unfair to ask why hospitals and other medical practices often deploy overweight employees in reception and other intake roles. That at least was your blogger’s experience last week at Northampton, Massachusetts’s Cooley Dickenson Hospital, where just inside the main entrance, he negotiated a long carpeted corridor, festooned with friendly but capacious receptionists.What’s surprising about that? In the medical services cosmos, receptionists earn the lowest salaries, have the lowest education levels, and work the most sedentary jobs. Why should they be svelter than ordinary Americans, where in 2008 2/3 of adults were overweight.
Not to worry. Beyond the magic (intake) curtain, you encounter slimmer and trimmer employees—medical technicians (skill level and weight may correlate somewhat here), nurses, and physicians.
As for primacy—a hospital can’t insist that its receptionists slim down, but it can nudge them via a (this may be a stretch) “preventive” culture that emphasizes creative exposure to education, exercise, and diet--all socially and perhaps economically reinforced. Until then, Cooley Dickenson will likely continue to make its best first impression with the life-size cardboard likeness of its trim Harvard/MIT-educated president, Chris Melin. He greets you just inside the door, is easy on the eyes, and offers preventive advice to boot.