The results of this survey provide a first environmental scan of the aims and extent of education about drug promotion within medical and pharmacy faculties. In most cases, education on promotion was included within the required curriculum, but students devoted one half day or less to this topic during their professional training; in nearly one-third of cases, medical faculties devoted only 1-2 hours, often within a broader course on pharmacology, clinical pharmacology or therapeutics. Those spending less time on the topic were less likely to use interactive educational techniques, to include questions on drug promotion in examinations, or to judge the education to be successful.
The content of coursework was remarkably similar by health profession and region, with a primary focus on critical appraisal skills, followed by sales representatives. Few respondents mentioned education on how to respond to patient requests for advertised drugs, although direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and other promotional techniques targeting the public, such as video news releases or celebrity endorsements, are becoming increasingly prevalent. There were few differences by WHO region in content or approach to this education; this lack of overall difference may reflect the wide variety of national experiences within as well as between regions.
Although these survey results are exploratory, they provide a snapshot of the type of education that is being provided, subject matter, techniques and aims. The number of responses far outweighed the published literature describing educational initiatives for medical and pharmacy students on drug promotion. On the other hand, the respondents often described a single one or two hour lecture. Lack of integration and inadequate time allocation were frequently mentioned as barriers to success.
In conclusion, we found that many medical and pharmacy educators recognize the need for education about drug promotion and have incorporated this topic into their work, often integrating it into curricula on therapeutics, pharmacology, or professional ethics. Although many barriers to success were identified, there was broad interest in further development and work in this area.