Medical Students’ Exposure to Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing: A Survey at One U.S. Medical School

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Abstract

Purpose.

While much is known about the interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and physicians, very little is known about pharmaceutical marketing directed toward medical students. This study sought to characterize the extent and forms of medical students’ exposure to pharmaceutical industry marketing.

Method.

In 2001–02, an anonymous, 17-item questionnaire was distributed to 165 preclinical and 116 clinical students at the University of Minnesota Medical School—Twin Cities. The main outcome measures were the number and forms of exposures to pharmaceutical industry marketing reported by medical students and whether students had discussed these exposures with teachers or advisors. Preclinical and clinical students were compared using χ2 analysis (p < .05).

Results.

One hundred fourteen (69.1%) preclinical students and 107 (92.2%) clinical students responded. Nearly all students reported at least one exposure to pharmaceutical industry marketing. Seventy-six (71.7%) clinical students compared to 38 (33.3%) preclinical students recalled over 20 exposures (p < .005). Clinical students were more likely to have received a free meal (p < .01), textbook (p < .005), pocket text (p < .005), or trinket (p < .005) than were their preclinical colleagues. Most students (68.2%) had not discussed pharmaceutical marketing with an instructor or advisor; 59 (55.7%) clinical students as compared to 87 (80.6%) preclinical students recalled no such discussion (p < .005).

Conclusion.

Medical students have extensive exposure to pharmaceutical industry marketing during their early years of training. Given existing evidence that such exposure influences physicians’ practice and prescribing patterns, the authors propose that medical school curricula include formal instruction to prepare students to critically assess these contacts.

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