WUSM rated best in region at keeping students from drug industry

| Staff Reporter

In its annual report issued this past June, the American Medical Student Association ranked Washington University School of Medicine the best medical school in the area for keeping the pharmaceutical drug industry away from students.

AMSA gave WUSM a B grade, a grade surpassed by 11 medical schools nationwide, which received A-minus grades. The medical school also received a B grade in 2008.

“This institution has strong policy in the areas of gifts, consulting and on- and off-site education,” the AMSA report read. “The school has not provided any evidence that the medical school curriculum covers conflicts of interest arising from financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry in a meaningful way.”

AMSA annually gives grades to all medical schools across the nation based on their policies with pharmaceutical companies and avoiding conflicts of interest, according to James Crane, associate vice chancellor for cinical affairs at the medical school.

“The rationale for the policy is that pharmaceutical companies obviously have a legitimate interest in making health care professionals aware of their products and their new product developments,” Crane said.

There are times, however, when interaction inevitably takes place between pharmaceutical representatives and medical students and faculty.

“We want to make sure that those interactions with any of their salesmen and representatives have a valid purpose and any information that students and faculty share is balanced, evidence-based and free of any financial inducements that may influence medical decision-making,” Crane said.

The medical school has an explicit policy regarding interactions with the pharmaceutical industry. The policy requires vendor sales representatives to seek prior approval if they want to come to campus, and they may not have any patient interaction unless it is approved by the department chair and is in the presence of a “medical device representative.”

Although pharmaceutical/medical device representatives are permitted to make grants to the University, they must be under complete control of the medical school. Industry vendors may not interact with students on medical school premises without faculty supervision. They must provide only “peer-reviewed literature and technical information related to the use of medical devices in this setting,” according to the policy.

WUSM’s policy has long emphasized the importance of avoiding financial conflict of interest. Promotional items, including pens, magnets and notepads, are prohibited from the clinical practice area. Industry-sponsored food and catered meals are also not permitted either at the medical school or at conferences that medical school students and faculty might attend, unless the food is provided through an unrestricted departmental grant. Major financial inducements, such as sporting event tickets, and travel and gift baskets, are prohibited.

Free samples may only be given out to low-income patients or when a student’s response can help determine what medication might be helpful for his or her condition.

AMSA ranked each medical school’s drug industry policy in 11 categories. WUSM received perfect scores with respect to gifts and meals, attendance at industry-sponsored lectures and meetings off-campus, and industry support for scholarship and funds for trainees.

The University, however, received only a score of one out of three with respect to medical school curriculum. This low score was a direct result of a lack of lectures regarding pharmaceutical industry relationships, according to Crane. Crane said these issues are addressed in the school’s experimental-based curriculum regarding conflicts of interest and industry interaction.

“It’s very much embodied in the student training experience,” Crane said. “Much of what students learn is experimental, not in a lecture setting. We’ve embedded [this topic] in clinical rotations. There’s so much to teach and only so many hours in a day that you can’t have every single topic in a lecture format.”

The medical school’s grade comes in light of news that former University professor Timothy Kuklo was given money by a pharmaceutical company while conducting a study on a drug produced by the company at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

According to Crane, Kuklo’s resignation will have no impact on WUSM’s policy for the future.