A study in the September 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that medical students are being influenced by drug-promotion through the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of giving free gifts.
Dr. Frederick S. Sierles, a professor of medicine at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, in North Chicago, Illinois, collected data in anonymous questionnaires sent to 1,143 third-year medical students at eight medical schools.
They found that 93.2% of the students were asked or required by a physician to attend at least one drug company-sponsored lunch. Thus, Sierles observed that the gift-giving practice was encouraged by professors and professionals in the field.
In addition, 68.8% of the students believed gifts would not influence their practices, and 57.7% thought gifts would not affect colleagues’ practices. There was also a tendency among those surveyed to believe the gifts would influence colleagues more than themselves.
Surprisingly, 80.3% of the students believed they were entitled to gifts.
Results showed that third-year medical students get, on average, one gift or attend one activity sponsored by a drug maker each week. Most students think this marketing is probably biased but believe they aren’t swayed to a company by it.
Sierles observed that the marketing by pharmaceutical companies began early on in students’ careers. "This contact with drug companies begins in the weeks and months after students graduate from college. By the third year of medical school, they are being saturated with this," he said.
While many students and professionals do not believe they are being influenced, there is evidence from other studies that gifts and marketing events do influence what is prescribed. The danger is that this will lead to the improper prescribing of medications.
In addition, many students were uniformed about the policies of their school or the national medical organizations in regard to the acceptance of gifts and promotional meals. Sierles argued that "medical schools should consider restricting exposure to drug reps."
Leana Wen, President of the American Medical Student Association and a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis, agreed that it was important to limit the influence of the pharmaceutical companies.
"We think that big pharma has gotten intricately involved in every aspect of medical education and clinical practice.
Medical schools really have a duty to educate students about the proper ways to interact with drug companies" she said
Another expert, Jan D. Carline, a professor of medical education and biomedical informatics at the University of Washington, was alarmed by the findings, especially students’ feelings of entitlement toward these gifts which he sees as an indicator of the values and behaviors of the professionals teaching them.