Young physicians want more transparency in financial relationships
By their actions, Generation Y doctors are sending a clear message that they want to take the ethical high road in their dealings with drug companies and medical device developers. In medical schools across the nation, young physicians are speaking up about what they consider to be one element of greed in their profession.
Their advocacy group, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), is calling for a crackdown on professional ethics violations. Medical students are particularly concerned about relationships with drug and medical device developers that pose a conflict of interest. To call attention to this issue, AMSA now rates academic medical centers on how well they monitor and control money from drug and medical products companies. These results are available to the public.
In some academic medical centers, student doctors are taking the matter into their own hands. For example, more than 200 medical students at Harvard Medical School, recently organized to oust Pharma’s influence from classrooms, laboratories, teaching hospitals and other facilities.
This action was triggered by an incident at Harvard in which a professor, during class, touted the benefits of cholesterol drugs in class. When a student asked questions about drug side effects, he was belittled by the professor. Another student in the class researched the professor. He learned that this professor was a paid researcher for 10 drug companies and had conducted five studies on cholesterol drugs. Following this incident, actions by the medical students led to Harvard becoming the only medical school in the nation to create a blanket policy requiring faculty to reveal any industry ties to the medical students they teach.
The ways in which financial relationships can become corrupted between pharma companies and physicians who conduct research on their behalf was addressed in a recent report. The report, titled “Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice,” was issued by the Institute of Medicine on April 28, 2009. One situation that has attracted media attention was where an anesthesiologist on staff at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, fabricated the results of at least 21 clinical trials, one of which involved Pfizer’s arthritic pain relief drug Celebrex. Celebrex has been associated with an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
As the incident at Harvard Medical School demonstrates, at least for the present, younger doctors seem less motivated by money than some of their older peers. Whether this same altruistic attitude changes as they spend more years in clinical practice remains to be seen. Studies of Gen Y physicians suggest otherwise.
For the lab testing industry, these are early signs that Gen Y pathologists and lab scientists will have very different financial and research relationships with in vitro diagnostics vendors and biotech firms than was true of Baby Boomer pathologists and lab scientists. – P. Kirk