Free Surgical Enhancement: A Harm or Benefit?

According to the New York Times, surgical practices in Prague are offering free enhancements to nurses as an employment incentive.  One nurse chose to undergo breast augmentation and liposuction, free of charge.  

The piece raises some interesting ethical questions: While the procedures could certainly be beneficial to individual nurses in the short term, would such a practice harm the nursing profession as a whole?  

According to reporter Dan Bilefsky, nurses in the region “insist they are under enormous pressure to look good in a society where attractiveness is often as highly prized as clinical skills.”  Critics argue that the incentives could promote an idealized body image for nurses, in a profession already suffering from misconceptions about technical competence.  A spokeswoman from the Czech nurses association argues that nurses are still perceived as “low level workers” with little to offer besides manual labor.  Nurses after all, aren’t intended to be models, but caregivers that provide an enormous benefit to the medical profession and the public they serve.  A misplaced emphasis on their physical appearance could undermine public perceptions of their competence and value.

Still, others may not see any problem with offering incentives through procedures like breast augmentation or rhinoplasty; perhaps they’re analogous to employee discounts at a retailer, vacation packages, or other career perks.  

The supposed ethical problems brought by these surgical incentive programs probably aren’t a product of the programs alone, but rather an objection to the sexism and discrimination that underlie them.