Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Swag the Dog

Bill Kurmes of the Skeptivet blog (check it out!) was kind enough to send me an article by veterinary student Michelle Dally about the payola, kickbacks and free swag that veterinary school students have come to expect these days:

Every first-year veterinary student at Colorado State University is assigned a small desk in a dingy warren in the Anatomy building affectionately known as “the cubes.” These desks are unremarkable in all ways but one: when students first arrive, they find their desks piled high with a variety of freebies: pens, notepads, backpacks, notebooks, highlighters, academic calendars, pet treats, pet food bowls, reference books, and more — all emblazoned with pet food, pharmaceutical, and other corporate brand names from across the veterinary industry. And that is only the beginning.

As the year unfolds, students discover that they are entitled to free and sharply discounted dog, cat, and horse food; free heartworm preventative; a free laboratory coat; and a free clipboard for use in their gross anatomy laboratory. Soon, first-year veterinary students are receiving e-mails through the official veterinary college e-mail distribution list encouraging them to apply to be corporate student representatives for a variety of companies positions that typically involve little more than distributing additional freebies to their classmates and organizing one or two free lunchtime lectures. In return for their efforts, these student representatives are generally paid between $750 and $2,000 per semester.

Some companies employ as many as two student representatives in each of the 4 veterinary college classes, whereas others employ only a single representative for each class or a single representative for the entire college. Regardless, the upshot is that there are typically one or two corporate-sponsored free lunches each week for veterinary students, and the corporate presence in the veterinary college is palpable.

Veterinarians, like human doctors, pocket every freebie and dollar they can get even as they proclaim themselves immune from such cash-for-prescription influences -- a classic case of the "Semmelweis effect." 

"As if I’m going to be influenced by a pen” is a common refrain when concerns about the provision of freebies to veterinary students are raised. But social science research has suggested that gifts, no matter how insubstantial, do indeed bestow the giver influence over the recipient.... a study of third-year medical students at eight U.S. medical schools found that 80.3% of the students thought they were entitled to receive gifts from drug companies. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents believed that gifts would not influence their practices, but only 57.7% believed that the same gifts would not influence their colleagues’ practices. Additionally, 59.6% of the respondents simultaneously believed that sponsored grand rounds seminars are educationally helpful and likely to be biased.

Michelle Dally notes that it's not just pharmaceutical companies lining veterinary pockets with pens and payola; it's dog food companies too.

Even if one accepts that veterinarians have the same or greater conflicts of interest as do physicians when it comes to industry relationships, the question arises as to whether veterinarian relationships with pet food companies are somehow different. After all, animal owners can much more easily choose another dog food than they can choose another drug.

And yet, a number of pet food companies market therapeutic diets that often are available only through a veterinarian, making these diets somewhat akin to prescription medications. In addition, veterinarians, because of their professional standing, can influence owners with regard to the pet foods they choose. I would argue, therefore, that pet food companies could see value in obtaining influence over veterinarians as to the pet foods they recommend.

I have said all the same beforeand added quite a few more bits too as a check of the links at the bottom of this post will confirm.

Ms. Dally somewhat timidly notes:

As of this time, neither the AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, nor Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has adopted a policy regarding provision of corporate freebies to students.

No kidding! And you know why? Simple: the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges are like pigs with all four feet in the payola trough.  Tell veterinary students to quit taking payola, kickbacks and promotional items?

Hell no! Their advice is going to be to ask for bigger checks, better free vacations, more "free samples," and more "Key Opinion Leader" contracts.

The AVMA and AAHA do not care a whit about ethics, integrity or good medicine at a fair price.  These trade associations have become nothing more than snake oil peddlers who long ago sold themselves out to drug companies, device makers, and laboratory corporations.

In the veterinary field, the trade associations are not part of the solution; they are part of the problem!  [This  blog post is a re-post from 2011]

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