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Student associations drive pharmaceutical companies off campus

Pharmaceutical companies seek to influence healthcare professionals beginning when they are students. Students in several countries are taking action to highlight and avoid these influences.

Applying the principle that "young minds are the most malleable" and "habits, good and bad, are learned young", pharmaceutical companies have long been invading medical schools the world over. Financing of universities and training centres, involvement in teaching, presentations by reps, gifts, etc. are all opportunities to promote a brand image or a product.

The American Medical Students Association (AMSA), with tens of thousands of members, is campaigning for US medical schools to introduce regulations governing these relations in order to ensure that teaching remains focused on the best patient care.

Since 2007, AMSA has evaluated medical schools on the basis of criteria it has established to reduce these conflicts of interest. The student group applies 14 assessment criteria for the prevention of conflicts of interests, and each year it produces a medical school ranking.

The 14 criteria include banning all gifts and meals, prohibiting visits from pharmaceutical company sales reps or financing speakers, as well as including necessary teaching about conflicts of interest.

According to AMSA's 2014 report, more than two out of three American medical schools have established "excellent" or "robust" regulations to manage relations between pharmaceutical companies and students. This proportion has been on the rise from one year to the next.

Similar initiatives have been developed in Australia and Canada. In 2015, the French independent medical training and information body Formindep, inspired by the AMSA initiative, launched a campaign aimed at the deans of medical schools, supported by the French medical student body, the Association nationale des étudiants en médecine de France (ANEMF).

©Prescrire 1 July 2016

"Student action reduces industry influence in US medical schools" Prescrire Int 2016; 25 (173): 194-195. (Pdf, free).

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See also

Guard against drug
companies' influence on
healthcare professionals,
starting with medical students
(June 2013)

Medical ethics: a U.S.
university refuses gifts from
pharmaceutical companies
(March 2007)

Incentive gifts to health
professionals: conditioning
begins at university
(March 2006)