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“Our medical schools must not become shills for big pharma”

A commentary in the Globe and Mail today, “Our medical schools must not become shills for big pharma,” begins:

“Most Canadians might be surprised to learn that medical students in Canada are routinely taught by faculty who have financial ties, and work in partnership, with drug companies. Conflict of interest (COI) policies at medical schools are important to ensure that students get an unbiased education based on the best available clinical evidence, free of industry-sponsored, commercially-driven information. After all, these students go on to become our doctors and we want the best doctors education can provide.”

You could freely substitute “Americans” for “Canadians” in that sentence, and the point would be just as valid.

The commentary reflects on the authors’ co-authorship of a recent paper in the journal PLoS One, “Too Few, Too Weak: Conflict of Interest Policies at Canadian Medical Schools.”   In the commentary, the authors explain:

“…we examined the COI policies at all 17 medical schools across the country. Our findings reveal a glaring problem, and something that should concern all of us. The majority of medical schools (12 of 17) have generally weak or non-existent COI policies, and four schools had policies that were moderately restrictive. Only one medical school – Western University – had stringent COI rules.

In other words, the bulk of our doctors-in-training in Canada are receiving health information that is potentially biased and misleading.”

In the US, the American Medical Student Association for years has offered an online “PharmFree Scorecard,” tracking conflict of interest policies at academic medical centers. Poke around. You might need some drugs after you read your local scorecard.


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