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Medical Residency Programs' Acceptance of Pharmaceutical Industry Aid Raises Ethical Questions

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According to a survey conducted in 2006 and 2007, ¾ of the program directors responsible for medical residency programs that responded said that they believed it “was not desirable” to accept financial support from the drug industry. However, it seems that their ethics and morals might not match up with their practices.

In the same survey, published in the web version of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the surveyors found that drug companies paid for educational materials like pocket guides in 83% of medical residency programs that accepted their support, meals in 90%, office supplies in 68%, and drug samples in 57%. Moreover, medical residency programs in the South were much more likely to accept the aid than those in the Northeast—a comparison of 72% to 47%.

The news sent up a red flag for The Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine, the group in charge of the survey. Specifically, when medical residency programs accept financial gifts from the drug industry there are definite conflicts of interest. Particularly, it is problematic for young doctors to receive so much of their financial support from drug companies, especially when they will be prescribing prescription drugs for the very first time. Additionally, the Program Directors discovered a connection between medical residents’ abilities to pass the test given by the American Board of Internal Medicine and their acceptance of drug industry aid. That is, programs where fewer graduates passed the tests were also those who accepted the greatest amount of financial support from the drug industry. While several schools have stopped accepting drug industry financing, there are still those who do. The reason many cited was that they received inadequate funding from other sources. While that seems like a more legitimate reason for taking the money, other excuses weren’t as palpable. For example, other respondents cited the popularity of drug industry perks amongst medical residents, while others said that there was encouragement from administration to do so. However, there is one group who could possibly ban pharmaceutical financing in all medical residency programs: The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Nevertheless, the survey did not call for a blanket ban, but for more research.