"Pharma babes"

Time columnist Scott Haig praises -- but still manages to insult -- the corporate hotties who hawk meds.

By Carol Lloyd
Published January 4, 2007 8:05PM (EST)

This one was too tempting to pass up. The world of mea culpa medical journalism has been growing like a teratoma tumor recently, but "Attack of the Pharma Babes," Scott Haig's most recent column in Time magazine, takes the proverbial cheesecake. The good doctor explains the practice of pharmaceutical companies hiring attractive, well-coifed saleswomen to push their products, complete with freebie clipboards and what he refers to as the "occasional steak-house dinner." The real take-home prize for doctors? A few minutes of ego-pumping from a young hot female in high heels.

"Ten minutes of rapt attention from a smiling beauty is still 10 more minutes than usual," Haig winks.


Haig goes to great lengths to show us just how special this relationship is -- since in his own words, he's surrounded by women in "wide, thick rubber-bottomed stand-all-day-long shoes. And our good women thus shod can't compete." ("Our"? Did he give birth to them or buy them at the local meat market?)

I don't mean to embarrass you, Mr. Haig, but your solipsism is showing! "Competing" for your appreciative gaze may not be the thing that the female nurses, administrators and doctors surrounding you are actually trying to do when they get up every morning and go to work. Haig's evocation of what he refers to as "the good women" (who compose the old unglamorous repugnantly thick-soled workforce) offers the perfect bleak, saintly counterpart to the "younger and prettier" drug hos bearing sample packs and informational brochures. In such desperate straits, who can blame the poor guy for letting the babes "get to him"?

After insulting his female co-workers, he goes on to insult the alluring drug reps, emphasizing that they're unable to educate him because they are salespeople, not scientists. Well, yeah. But considering the attributes he's paying attention to, what did he really expect? In the end, Haig's point that these sales reps actually do a lot of good -- an argument that boils down to the fact that the profession is "perfectly legal" and the fact that the reps do offer useful, if very basic, assistance -- is lost in the flotsam of his appreciation for their less professional assets.

The subject of "pharma babes" is great fodder. I've seen these ladies descend on a doctor's office before, and the intersection between the two cultures -- slick corporate sales meeting overworked medical practice -- was riveting. Of course, in this particular case I don't know whether the sex appeal of the salespeople was at all relevant, since the reps were visiting a practice of all female doctors. Which brings me to the most irritating aspect of Haig's confessional: Aside from one lone "he or she" used in reference to the generic doctor, the entire piece seems to assume that all doctors are like Haig: straight men who perk up when they hear stilettos in the hallway.

"Those good women were the first to warn us about the young lovelies in high heels. But the pharma babes still get to us, and the good women just roll their eyes," he recounts.

Who is "us"? News flash, dude: Back in 2003, one in four doctors in the nation was female; that number is expected to rise to 33 percent by 2010. Now that women comprise over half the incoming students in medical schools, the days of "doctor" being shorthand for "male" should be over.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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