For many docs, ambivalence about taking gifts starts early

The stereotypical law student’s first day is summed up as follows: Students think they are entering the field for the public good while their neighbors are in it for a hefty paycheck. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine indicates that medical students have a similar experience and found that while students and residents felt confident they could accept gifts from the pharmaceutical industry and remain unbiased, they couldn’t say the same of their peers. 

The split should appear somewhat familiar: A late 2012 ethics study showed doctors fell on both sides of the conflict-of-interest issue, with some saying calming a rumbling stomach would do nothing to influence their prescribing choices, and others saying the more distance between doctors and industry, the better, even if it means brown-bagging it.

The General Internal Medicine report also comes on the heels of a British Medical Journal study that showed that schools with tight gift bans had doctors who appeared to be more pitch-resistant. Yet the General Internal Medicine study accounted for schools with and without bans and found no difference. Researcher Aaron Kesselheim said this was unexpected and the reason could be because on-school policies were not being enforced at hospitals or practices.

Kesselheim’s team, which focused on 1,610 students, found two information sets of note: One was that despite school gift bans, the number of medical students receiving industry gifts was on the rise, with 33% of first-year medical students saying they had been given gifts and 56.8% of fourth-year students saying they had been similarly treated. Gifts included items like off-site meals and samples.

The second study was that the further along they were in their studies, the less suspicious they were of pharma-provided interactions and the more likely they were to find the interactions informational.