There’s no such thing as a free lunch (and learn)

It’s 11:45 a.m. My heart is pounding, and my palm are sweating as I prepare to run downstairs. Although the event doesn’t start until noon, I cannot possibly risk missing my free lunch. Yes, folks, there is a lunch and learn today and I want — no, need — to get my hands on that free lunch. Some students may turn to leave as soon as they find out that it’s “only pizza,” but I choose to stay. After all,  you can never really have too much pizza.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why are these event organizers so nice to us? Why do those vendors and companies provide us with free perks like pizza and toothpaste in exchange for an hour of our time?

According to a 2014 press release from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals received 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion in kickbacks. At a lunch and learn, that slice of pizza seems harmless, right? Or, for someone like myself, it might be more than just a single slice. But what if it was a gift basket or a gift card? Or an envelope with money in it? When and where does it stop? In order for us answer that question, it is crucial for us to understand the objectives that these vendors and companies are trying to accomplish by providing us with free lunches.

Familiarity. In psychology, there exists a phenomenon called “mere-exposure effect,” through which people tend to feel a “preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” To this effect, we feel like these people or things are trustworthy despite the lack of a logical basis. You might have noticed that the exact same vendors come to your school to hold lunch and learns during your first, second, third and even fourth years. These vendors are trying to familiarize you with their companies and products through repetition so, in turn, you can feel as if you can like them and/or trust them.

Advertisement. Pharmaceutical companies now spend $5 billion a year on advertising. There are many types of advertisements and one of the most effective forms of marketing is through word of mouth. This method often works better if the recommendation comes from a professional or a consumer who gains nothing from recommending the products. As such, dental students are deemed to be professionals, yet patients also know that there is no personal financial gain for dental students when they provide or recommend dental treatment. By coming to the schools, the vendors and companies advertise their products to us so that we can in turn advertise these products to our own patients.

Recruitment. Some companies, such as those in corporate dentistry, require the employment of more dentists to grow. It is difficult for them to recruit already-practicing dentists due to the many pre-existing arrangements they have. Thus, it is only natural for the companies to seek opportunities to recruit dental students so that they can potentially employ them shortly after they graduate. Corporate dentistry is not for everyone, but conversely, if this is an opportunity you are interested in, this could be a great chance to network with recruiters.

Education. Most lunch and learns have an educational aspect to them. It is a lunch and learn, after all. Some vendors present the latest clinical research data on the materials they use, while other educate students more on their brands or companies.

The purpose of this post is not to disparage the lunch and learns. Instead, I think that it’s great that the vendors and companies are so willing to take the time to come out and speak to us. Ultimately, it is our responsibility as students to understand the materials presented to us at these lunch and learns so that we can make informed choices as practitioners. After all, like they say, there’s no such a thing as free lunch.

~ Andy Suh, Roseman ’18, chapter historian

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About Andy Suh

Andy is a third-year student at Roseman University of Health Sciences. He is the past president of SPEA at Roseman and currently serves as a Historian Chair for Roseman ASDA. Andy majored in Psychology as an undergraduate and furthered his study in Healthcare Ethics as a graduate student. Besides dentistry, he enjoys playing sports, playing his musical instruments and spending time with his family.

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