How Pharmaceutical Industry Employees Manage Competing Moral Commitments

18 August 2014

The pharmaceutical industry has been criticised for pervasive misconduct. These concerns have generally resulted in increasing regulation. While such regulation is no doubt necessary, it tends to assume that everyone working for pharmaceutical companies is equally motivated by commerce, without much understanding of the specific views and experiences of those who work in different parts of the industry. In order to gain a more nuanced picture of the work that goes on in the “medical affairs” departments of pharmaceutical companies, we conducted 15 semi-structured interviews with professionals working in medical departments of companies in Sydney, Australia. We show that this group of pharmaceutical professionals are committed to their responsibilities both to patients, research participants, and the public and to their companies. Despite the discrepancies between these commitments, our participants did not express much cognitive dissonance, and this appeared to stem from their use of two dialectically related strategies, one of which embraces commerce and the other of which resists the commercial imperative. We interpret these findings through the lens of institutional theory and consider their implications for pharmaceutical ethics and governance. Keywords: Qualitative research; Social values; Pharmaceutical industry; Pharmaceutical ethics