Many leaders at academic medical centers are doing double duty, serving on the boards of pharmaceutical companies and being paid handsomely for it, finds an analysis published in JAMA today.
Nearly half of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies worldwide have leaders from top academic medical centers on their boards. Of the 17 US drug companies, 16 count academic center leaders. These individuals, who included 2 university presidents, 6 deans, 6 hospital system executives, and 7 department chairs or directors. The average compensation they received for board service was $312 564. By comparison, the average dean of medicine earns $445 781, and the average associate dean at a medical school makes $196 212, according to a 2012-2013 survey by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
Walid F. Gellad, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and staff physician at the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center, discussed the study’s findings with news@JAMA:
news@JAMA: Why did you and your colleagues decide to do this study?
Dr Gellad: There’s a lot of interest in identifying potential conflicts of interest in medicine. There is the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which reveals payments companies make to physicians. The issue is of great interest to medical trainees, especially because there are limits on receiving free pens or lunches. The issue of dual leadership at academic centers and on corporate boards has received less attention.
news@JAMA: Do you think this is a new phenomenon?
Dr Gellad: I don’t think it is new at all. One study in 2007 in JAMA looked at the corporate relationships of department chairs.
news@JAMA: Were you surprised by the number of administrators serving on pharmaceutical company boards?
Dr Gellad: Yes. There are different grades of leadership represented. They are not all deans or chief executives, but all have some leadership role. This is about individuals holding dual leadership responsibilities at academic and pharmaceutical companies.
news@JAMA: What about the magnitude of the compensation?
Dr Gellad: I think it is pretty standard for someone who serves on a corporate board. This is from public data. It also includes stock and charitable donations made on behalf of these individuals. These numbers are striking when the salaries of most academic center leaders are not that much higher than what they are receiving for serving on a corporate board. It is way greater than the average salary of most people in the country.
news@JAMA: What do you think can or should be done?
Dr Gellad: Our hope is that this paper gets people to ask that question. It’s up to university ethicists and other university leaders to decide what should happen. We need to understand the risks and benefits of these relationships. I think a lot of people are not aware these relationships exist.
news@JAMA: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Dr Gellad: We wanted to make clear in putting this together that we wanted this study to focus not on individuals but on the topic.