Background: Drug companies maintain close contact with physicians. We studied the extent to which medical students are already in contact with drug companies, and their attitudes toward them.
Methods: An anonymous questionnaire containing 74 questions was distributed to 1151 medical students at eight German universities. 1038 (90.3%) of the questionnaires were filled out, returned, and evaluated.
Results: 12.1% of the students had never received any kind of gift from a drug company or participated in any drug company-sponsored event. 13.0% had received at least one sponsored lunch, and 24.6% had attended at least one sponsored lecture or CME event. 65.6% had received at least one non-informational gift, 50.8% an informational gift, 39.3% a reprint, and 8.6% a drug sample. 39.8% considered sponsored lectures informative and helpful, but simultaneously judged the presentation of content as biased. 45.6% and 49.7% of students, respectively, considered it all right to accept gifts because their influence was minimal in any case or because they considered themselves in a bad financial situation. 24.6% of the students thought gifts would influence their future prescribing behavior, while 45.1% thought gifts would influence their classmates' future prescribing behavior (p<0.001 for this difference).
Conclusion: Medical students have extensive contact with the pharmaceutical industry even before they are out of medical school. Therefore, the medical school curriculum should include information about the strategies drug companies use to influence physicians' prescribing behavior, so that medical students can develop an appropriately critical attitude.