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Research Article

Vol. 8 No. 1 (2004)

Pharmaceutical Marketing to Medical Students: The Student Perspective

  • Joseph Barfett
  • Brent Lanting
  • Julian Lee
  • Michael Lee
  • Victor Ng
  • Peter Simkhovitch
October 25, 2020


It has been estimated that pharmaceutical companies spend $1.7 billion every year promoting their products to physicians in Canada. At least $21 billion are spent every year on drug promotion in the United States. Although pharmaceutical marketing campaigns are primarily directed toward practicing physicians and residents, medical students are targeted as well. The goal of this study was to assess medical student attitudes toward pharmaceutical promotion in a Canadian academic centre. A questionnaire was designed to assess the attitudes of medical students about pharmaceutical promotion, including the acceptability of receiving various gifts and incentives. The survey was administered to first, second, and fourth-year medical students at the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario, Canada). Statistical methods were employed to compare subpopulations of students based on demographic and socioeconomic data. Some 81% of students were not opposed to interacting with drug companies in medical school. Medical students felt comfortable accepting gifts of low monetary value, such as lunches (75%) and penlights (74%), but were willing to accept gifts of higher monetary value if the gifts served an educational purpose, such as textbooks (65%) and drug company-sponsored educational seminars (66%). 17% of students said that if presented with a choice of drugs identical in terms of price, efficacy, and effectiveness, they would prescribe the drug from the company that provided them with financial incentives. Statistical analysis showed no differences in responses among the different years of medical students. There were some differences in responses between medical students who had a doctor parent compared to those who did not have a doctor parent. Medical students are generally not opposed to interacting with or receiving gifts from pharmaceutical companies. Insights gained from this study raises issues that may be of interest to medical educators concerning the attitudes of the future physicians in Canada.


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