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Big pharma drug reps begin hounding doctors long before they're doctors

Strangers with Candy

Medical students say they’re not prepared.

Oh, don’t worry. They’re ready to practice medicine, but they say they want their schools to offer instruction on how to interact with pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs).

Students, you’re overthinking it. Here’s all you need to know: Don’t take candy from strangers.

Married to the mob

A review of 14 surveys that explored med students’ attitudes towards PSRs found that a majority of students have “significant exposure to promotion.”

That’s right–drug reps begin hounding doctors long before they’re doctors.

The review shows that even though the majority of students view drug rep promotion as biased, they don’t really mind.

Generally, students believe that note pads and pens with logos are fine. Gifts of textbooks, stethoscopes and a nice meal–also just fine. But the majority draws the line there. They say that social outings, drug samples, vacations, and funding for travel to conferences are inappropriate.

However, that still leaves a minority of students who said all those perks were completely appropriate.

Ah, what good little drug-friendly docs THEY’RE going to be!

As for the majority of students who want their schools to provide guidance on handling drug reps, that’s probably not a bad idea–especially for those who see no ethical problem in accepting extravagant gifts.

But really, handling PSRs is not brain surgery–especially for people that might actually be doing brain surgery! Pharma reps don’t give you meals or expensive textbooks or trips to Cancun because they like you. Every gift is part of an unspoken quid pro quo. It’s kind of like dealing with the mob, but without the threat of getting whacked.

And don’t buy the line that PSRs want to help educate you. If that were true, you’d get school credit for watching TV commercials.

So just do what I do: Open the medical journals and read the studies!

Come to think of it, that’s also pretty good advice for practicing docs.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson


“What do Medical Students Think about Pharmaceutical Promotion?” Australian Medical Student Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2010,