The ads, according to the hospital’s website, are meant to convey “the theme of physician-scientists discussing their innovative work in personalized medicine and add first-person vignettes to illustrate how patients and families benefit from the care they have received at VUMC.”

Fair enough, but why spend this money to reach a national audience when the hospital already appears to be booming with patients? According to financial reports filed with the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS, the Nashville hospital’s patient revenue has jumped steadily in the last five years (up 46 percent from $1.2 billion to $1.76 billion) culminating in an operating profit for the last year on file with the IRS of $182.6 million.

An NPR report last year on hospital marketing around the country that mentioned Vanderbilt hinted at one reason. It quoted the hospital’s chief marketing officer as explaining that “Ultimately, it helps us attract students to Vanderbilt [as well as] faculty and staff.”

But the marketing director added this: “We ourselves are proud of the work that we do, so it’s really focused in that direction.” So, is the hospital, flush with cash, spending millions to boost the egos of those who work there? Who decided to launch the ad campaign? How much does it cost? And who’s measuring whether it’s worth the money that otherwise might go to lowering patient bills or providing more aid to those who can’t pay the bills?

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Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.