When I first heard about this one, I thought it was a joke, but...
The New York Times reported today that pharmaceutical companies seem to be going out of their way to hire former or current college or professional (US) football cheerleaders as pharmaceutical representatives.
It provided two examples. Ms. Cassie Napier, former cheerleader for the University of Kentucky, "now plies doctors' office selling the antacid [actually, the proton pump inhibitor] Prevacid [lansoprazole] for TAP Pharmaceutical Products." Ms. Onya [last name not printed by the Times] is currently is a cheer leader for the Washington Redskins, and "weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infections."
"Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp size skirts, and persuasive enthuisiams, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in a sales force." "T. Lynn Williamson, Ms. Napier's cheering adviser at Kentucky, says he regularly gets calls from recruiters looking for talent, mainly from pharmaceutical companies." "They don't ask what the major is," he said. "Exaggerated motions, exaggerated smiles, exaggerated enthuisaism - they learn those things, and they can get people to do what they want." There is now at least one employment firm, Spirited Sales Leaders, that specializes in recruiting cheer-leaders. The article reported that quite a few former University of Kentucky and some current Washington Redskin cheer-leaders are now pharma reps.
Lamberto Andreotti, MS, Executive Vice President, and President, Worldwide Pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers-Squibb rationalized the interest in cheer-leaders as pharma reps thus, "Obviously, people hired for the work have to be extroverts, a good conversationalist, a pleasant person to talk to; but this has nothing to do with looks, it's the personality. However, industry critic Dr. Thomas Carli of the University of Michigan charged that "seduction appeared to be a deliberate industry strategy."
You just can't make this stuff up.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with hiring current or former cheer-leaders as pharmaceutical representatives per se. What is dismaying is the pharmaceutical companies' emphasis on hiring people, regardless of their academic background or knowledge of pharmacology or medicine, mainly because they are attractive, have "exaggerated" mannerisms, and perhaps even imply "seduction."
This emphasis on short-term, superficial marketing rather than serious science, integrity, and focus on the welfare of patients seems already to have gotten big segments of the pharmaceutical industry in trouble.
One explanation for the continuing unraveling of once highly-respected Merck (for example, see this article in the Washington Post on the latest budget cuts and layoffs there) is its shift in emphasis from science, integrity, and patient welfare to marketing glitz.
You would think the leadership of the pharmaceutical industry would put down their pom-poms and pay attention.
[See widely ranging blog-sphere coverage of this at Dr. Sanity, Health Business Blog, Medical Rants, and PharmaGossip.]
"The idea that a university needs a discrete individual to be in charge of “integrity” or ethical conduct at all seems contrary to the very idea of a university as a place where learned people (teachers) instruct the to-be-learned in academic disciplines all of which have fairly well-understood ethical rules." - The University of North Carolina is creating a new position: "Chief Integrity Officer." Press Millen, a Raleigh trial lawyer, is not impressed.
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