By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Metal billboard, Bubaque, Guinea-Bissau, 2010. Photo by Dawn Starin.

Our monthly Art of Nursing department—often, a poem or image somehow related to health care—is a unique feature for a scholarly publication, but one we feel strongly about. We believe that in order to provide truly holistic care, nurses need to know about more than evidence-based clinical content—they also need to be aware of many other aspects of the human experience. 

One thing art teaches us is that people don’t always see things the same way. What’s beautiful, illuminating, or at least useful to one person may be ugly or offensive to another. Consider billboards with public health messages. To some, such a billboard may seem to be an eyesore blotting the landscape; to others, the image and message is a powerful tool for disseminating life-saving information. Our September 2010 Art of Nursing (click through to the PDF version) showcased billboards in Guinea-Bissau, a poor country with HIV prevalence  of epidemic proportions. The billboards, photographed by Dawn Starin (here’s a blog post she wrote about them), are used to encourage people to get tested. A blog post by AJN senior editor Sylvia Foley about the column noted concerns some had expressed about these billboards:

Are the billboards effective? Starin writes, “Although the billboards are fabulous to look at, many health professionals I spoke with thought they exemplified time and money wasted, in part because of the high nationwide illiteracy rate.” One health worker emphasized the need for more culture-specific studies on sexual practices and tradition, so that appropriate education programs could be developed.

On the other hand, here’s an excerpt from a recent comment by one reader of Sylvia’s blog post:

I think using public health billboards in Guinea-Bissau to combat the epidemic of HIV-AIDS is a great tool to reach out to the community and create awareness. Creative billboards do in fact attract people’s attention especially when it’s something as important as getting tested for HIV and AIDS. I can speak from personal experience as one day I was driving down a major highway in Miami, Florida and saw a very creative billboard about getting tested. The message on the billboard stuck with me for days until I decided to get tested. These billboards may not motivate everyone to get tested but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that this billboard inspired to get tested.

We don’t know the results of this commenter’s test results—we can only hope they were negative. But the important point is that the billboard was effective: this person got tested. 

What are some other notable billboards promoting public health messages? If you’ve seen them, send us photos of the billboards (to Shawn dot Kennedy at WoltersKluwer dot com). We’ll post them online (and credit you!) and help spread the word.

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