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How I got my school to go "PharmFree"

By: Jen Muniak

I was initially inspired to pursue a local PharmFree agenda when I was at AMSA's Annual Convention in Houston ('08). The growing body of evidence that pursuasion of medical professionals on the part of corporations and profits was convincing and frightening. I also met Shahram Ahari at that conference, a former pharma rep who now speaks on behalf of sound prescribing habbits- he would later speak at our university and contribute to our cultural shift.

I returned to Syracuse and began talking to our Dean of Curriculum about this issue. I emphasized the fact that AAMC had just released new guidelines pertaining to how medical schools should approach relationships with the pharmaceutical and device industries. I also took note of how our school had received a "B" on the latest AMSA scorecard (www.amsascorecard.org) - in other words, we're weren't bad, but we could be much better. We could also be a leader in the effort to have evidence-based, patient-centered prescribing and a lack of conflicts of interests from our providers. This meeting led to another meeting with the chair of Bioethics, who had also taken an interest in our response to the new AAMC guidelines.

Concurrently, a classmate and I developed programming for AMSA's National PharmFree Week at our school. We invited Shahram, with funding from the College of Medicine, AMSA, and the Arnold Gold Foundation. He spoke at Medicine Grand Rounds, a lunch for about 150 students, and an innovative "Ethics Night" which consisted of a dinner of faculty and students who openly discussed these hard issues. In retrospect, this day had tremendous impact upon the institution's perception of this issue and convinced key people that it was time to redefine our attitudes towards conflicts of interest with a new policy.

Because of my initial interest in this topic and my work towards National PharmFree Week, I was asked to serve on the committee to re-write the school's policy. My classmates and I also conducted a survey of all department chairs, sampling current attitudes towards industry and how we should proceed.

Overall, the process took about a year and a half. We just unveiled a policy which I am very proud of! I feel as though I played a critical role in garnering support from administration, putting programming together, and playing an active role in the policy's creation. Students everywhere should be just as confident that the same is possible at their institutions. This process has taught me that while nothing comes easy, genuine passion, persistance, and a little luck can go very far towards getting the job done.

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