Last year, as president of the American Medical Student Association, Agrawal criticized the relationship between doctors and the drug industry, urging her fellow students to stop accepting industry gifts.
BAM What gifts does a medical student receive?
Agrawal The internal-medicine clerkship at Rhode Island Hospital used to have a free drug-company-sponsored lunch about every day. I also had pens, pads, mugs, books. A stethoscope tag and a penlight. I had this little Viagra calculator. When you turn it on it stands right up.
BAM Why were the gifts a problem for you?
Agrawal Scientific studies show that claims made by pharmaceutical representatives during lunchtime talks are often false. They'll promote a drug for a non-FDA approved use. They'll talk about benefits that have not been proven. Physicians tend to prescribe the drugs more often when they've attended one of those luncheons.
BAM What about the pens and mugs?
Agrawal Students develop an entitlement to these free goodies, and when they become practicing physicians the influences are much larger - free trips, large medical instruments.
BAM What did you do about the gifts?
Agrawal I got rid of all my drug paraphernalia and started bringing my own lunch to the drug-company talks.
BAM How have doctors responded to your campaign?
Agrawal The vast majority of physicians were upset. They'll tell you, "Others are influenced by these free trips and cruises and pens, but I'm not." In fact, the reason the drug companies spend billions marketing to physicians is because it works.
- Interview by Emily Gold Boutilier