The Northern Ontario School of Medicine now has a conflict of interest policy that is meant to prevent faculty and students from getting too cozy with pharmaceutical companies.

Under NOSM’s new policy, donations from pharmaceutical companies are gathered into a big pot and then used to pay for educational activities.

That protects the students' interests, said Adrienne Shnier, a doctoral student at York University who evaluates these kinds of policies for medical schools.

“The students can be as unbiased as they can when attending these education events and they can hopefully know that the education that they're receiving at these events is as unbiased or balanced as it can be,” she said.

The new policy at NOSM does some things well but also leaves some room for improvement, Shnier added.

For example, it's good the school has someone to enforce the conflict of interest policy — but there are no sanctions for those who don't follow it.

Medical school dean Roger Strasser said it's taken three years to get to this point, and he expects the policy will evolve to cover other conflicts as they arise.

“Along the way we've taken advice and learned from the experiences of other medical schools, and one of the lessons learned from elsewhere is that it's one thing to have a policy on paper [but] it's another for it to be implemented in a way that's effective,” he said.

“It's better not to rush it. I think, over time, we'll actually come to the point where the model we have in Northern Ontario is one that other schools of medicine and academic centres see as actually the model to follow.”