Harvard Medical Students Rebel Against Big Pharma Ties
Two hundred Harvard Medical School students are confronting
the school's administration, demanding an end to pharmaceutical industry
influence in the classroom.
The students worry that pharmaceutical industry scandals in recent years,
including criminal convictions, billions of dollars in fines, proof of bias
in research and publishing and false marketing claims, have cast a bad light
on the medical profession. The students have criticized Harvard as being less
vigilant than other leading medical schools in monitoring potential financial
conflicts by faculty members.
Harvard received the lowest possible grade, an "F," from the American Medical
Student Association, a national group that rates how well medical schools
monitor and control drug industry money.
The students were joined by Dr. Marcia Angell, a faculty member and former
editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, who has vigorously
advocated for an end to liaisons between academia and Big Pharma.
Alliance for Human Research Protection March 3, 2009
Dr. Mercola''s Comments
Medical schools' image as unbiased sources of education is increasingly being
tarnished as the truth comes out about their heavy ties to the drug industry.
Even Harvard Medical School, one of the most prestigious in the United
States, recently earned an F for its policies regarding accepting money and
gifts from drug companies.
The grade came from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which
ranked 150 medical schools according to their ties to industry. The more
money and other incentives a school was receiving from the pharmaceutical
industry, the worse grade they got.
Harvard earned the lowest grade possible, so kudos to these medical students
who decided to confront the school's administration for some much-needed
change. According to AMSA:
• Out of Harvard's 8,900 professors and lecturers, 1,600 admit that they or a
family member have ties to drug companies that could bias their teaching or
• The pharmaceutical industry contributed more than $11.5 million to Harvard
in 2008 for "research and continuing education classes."
The issue has only gotten more heated since the New York Times ran this
article, featuring the story of Matt Zerden, then a first-year Harvard
medical student, who became suspicious after one of his professors promoted
the benefits of cholesterol drugs, and even went so far as to belittle a
student who asked about side effects.
Turns out the professor was not only a member of Harvard's medical faculty,
but also was a paid consultant to 10 drug companies, including five makers of
"I felt really violated," Mr. Zerden, now a fourth-year student, said in the
New York Times. "Here we have 160 open minds trying to learn the basics in a
protected space, and the information he was giving wasn't as pure as I think
it should be."
And that really sums up the issue in a nutshell.
How can medical professors teach unbiased, truthful information to their
students when they're being essentially paid off by drug companies?
Well, they really can't, and that's the problem.
Impressionable medical students are being indoctrinated into the drug-based
model of disease care as we speak. It goes on all the time, and I can vouch
for this personally as I, too, was brainwashed in medical school to favor the
In the mid '80s, I was actually a paid speaker for the drug companies. They
would fly me to various physician education events around the country and pay
me a very generous stipend to lecture to these groups. That was more than two
decades ago, before I was able to remove myself from their very powerful
brainwashing techniques -- and I was finally able to understand the truth of
what they were doing.
A Long History of Corruption
In the 19th century, most Americans thrived on more natural approaches like
Then, in 1847, along came the American Medical Association (AMA). Most people
didn't trust this new conglomeration, so to gain the power, money and control
they were after, they kept all homeopathic physicians out of their "club,"
and proceeded to call all related remedies "quackery."
If you didn't want to pay to join the club (by advertising in their medical
journal, JAMA), anything you recommended would also be criticized.
From that point on, the AMA turned into a medical monopoly, taking control of
medical schools and essentially medical students as well. To put it simply,
when the AMA took control of the medical schools, they made it so that only
those who graduated from one of them could practice medicine.
And since they controlled the schools, guess what was largely taught? How to
use prescription drugs.
This intertwining of the drug industry and medical schools is still going
strong today, with the end result being a medical model that relies heavily
on drugs, surgery and hospital stays, instead of teaching true healing
What Happens When Industry Gets a Hold of Doctors?
It's old news that drug companies use aggressive sales tactics to influence
doctors' prescribing habits, but what may surprise you is how well these
A study a few years back found that drug companies were the greatest influence
on doctors' decisions of which drugs to prescribe. Further, about 70 percent
of doctors regarded drug representatives as an efficient way to obtain new
Of course, they start their pitches even before the doctors are practicing,
while they're still in medical school.
Drug reps must target doctors, and doctors in training, because a physician
is required for the consumer to purchase their product. Although in the
United States they have also ramped up their direct-to-consumer ads on
television and in magazines, their real "meat and potatoes" comes from their
marketing directly to physicians.
This is one of the primary reasons why drug companies spend $4 billion each
year on direct-to-consumer ads in the United States, but 400% more, a massive
$16 billion, to influence your doctor. That is $10,000 for every single
doctor in the United States.
Change is Underway
Fortunately there is a generation of bright medical students entering the
field, and many of them are taking steps to help clean up their medical
Already, AMSA has succeeded in securing a requirement at Harvard that all
professors and lecturers disclose their industry ties in class (one
professor's disclosure list had 47 company affiliations!).
Amidst all of the bad press, Harvard's dean also announced that a 19-member
committee will be re-examining the school's conflict-of-interest policies.
The inundation of drug companies into the medical field as a whole did not
happen overnight, and it won't get solved that way either. But step by step,
changes are being made in the right direction.
If you are a student in medical school right now, or planning to enter soon,
please become familiar with AMSA's PharmFree campaign. Aside from being a
great source of information, their site offers guides and kits to help you
make positive changes, including major policy reforms, at your own school.