Monday, September 25, 2023

Life as media doctors led to lucrative promotions for pistachios and dental products—but now we’ve embraced the conflict-free life

  1. Rebecca Coombes, head of news and views
  1. The BMJ
  1. rcoombes{at}

Media doctors are tempted with life changing amounts of money to promote brands and products –and the public is often unaware of this exchange. Rebecca Coombes speaks to two high profile doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, about their experiences and to GP Margaret McCartney, about her role in persuading them to stay conflict-free

How are doctors in the media tempted into promotional work?

Chris: I would say that, of the doctors you’ve come to know on terrestrial television, most of them have taken money from a company, and you will not know about it. And that, of course, includes me. By our early thirties, we were fronting television programmes that were watched by millions of people. We’d been doctors for about seven years.

The first offer I got was after I’d made a programme about teeth, and a dental company approached me to talk to some journalists for a day about a product. I was very uneasy and said no. And as I kept saying “no,” the offer climbed until it was £5000 for half an hour—and it was 10 minutes from where I worked. And, at that point, I said yes. I was young at the time. It was two months’ pay for half an hour’s work for a product I did genuinely use. And most of all it was going to be invisible: I was going to be quoted in a few industry journals.

Xand: The first thing I did was World Pistachio Day. The pistachio people called our agent and said, “Would you like to say …

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