Big Pharma Targets German Medical School Students

Lubeck Faculty of Medicine's auditorium
Lubeck Faculty of Medicine's auditorium
Christina Berndt*

MUNICH — Pharmaceutical companies know that doctors more frequently prescribe medicine produced by companies whose sales representatives visit them regularly. That very logic means that these same companies are also busy trying to “recruit” future doctors across Germany, according to a recent survey of German medical school deans and some 1,100 med students.

The study, conducted by Cora Koch and Klaus Lieb of the University of Mainz, and published in the German-language GMS Zeitschrift für Medizinische Ausbildung, also found that only two of the 30 universities that replied to survey questions had created guidelines for their staff and students for dealing with the pharmaceutical companies.

"That’s a remarkably low number," says Lieb. "We’re behind the U.S. on this by ten to 15 years."

Koch and Lieb were also surprised by the lack of interest in other dean’s offices in such guidelines, with only six of 30 universities without guidelines stating a desire such rules. The study found that most of the students surveyed were eager to have more information about how to avoid such advances from pharma companies.

"It’s possible that the students objectively perceive the influence of pharma companies on teaching to be a problem, but subjectively believe that they can control the interaction with reps and won’t be influenced," write Koch and Lieb. Hence only 22% of the students felt that medical students shouldn’t meet with reps.

Prior studies have clearly shown that the prescription behavior of doctors is in fact influenced by regular visits by industry salespeople — sometimes to the detriment of patients.

A survey questionnaire Koch and Lieb circulated last summer found only 12% of med students had never accepted a gift from a pharmaceutical firm or attended a sponsored event. Forty percent pronounced the content of such events as "distorted" but nevertheless found them to be informative and helpful. And nearly half of survey respondents were of the opinion that it was okay to accept gifts, also expensive ones, as these had “minimal influence” on them.

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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