I think I speak for the group when I say that as interns we were not exactly sure what to expect when we met with Mark Smithyes from Novartis. People tend to have very strong opinions about large pharmaceutical companies, and I don’t think it is a stretch for me to say that people do not always hold these entities in the most positive light. In fact, there may have even been a few of us who went into the meeting with some cynicism, but I digress.
As a person Mark was very passionate and friendly, and right off the bat he told us that if we had any questions to feel free to throw them at him. We definitely took him up on the offer and asked a broad range of questions, for example: how does Novartis decide what in particular to study and dedicate research towards? Why are the costs of some prescription drugs seemingly so high? How much of a pharmaceutical company’s business model are tied only to profit? He in turn asked us a question: what are the first words that come to mind when you think of a pharmaceutical company? I am not going to lie, most of the initial words we came up with were related to money and greed, but as we peeled back the layers we began to examine the question within more practical confines. Mark focused his efforts on these. He wanted to debunk the popular misconceptions held about Novartis, and he appeared genuine in his belief that his company was doing good things for the people of this province. His presentation gave us a much more well-rounded understanding of the issues at hand, something that is not always provided to us through traditional social media platforms. It was clear that Novartis takes these issues very seriously, and Mark shared with us his own stories about how Novartis does its best to help those of us without perfect health.
One thing I am learning as an intern is not to judge a book by its cover. Regardless of our feelings prior to the meeting, I know that a lot of us, at the very least, left our meeting questioning what we had initially thought about pharmaceutical companies. And that is really the lesson that I took away from our meeting with Mark. We are supposed to question our own beliefs once in awhile, just so that we are certain that we are seeing the entire picture and not just our own skewed perception of it. Mark helped us to better understand the challenges that these companies face, and for that we are really thankful. We thank Novartis very much for their sponsorship, and Mark Smithyes for providing us with both a delicious lunch and lots of patience in the face of our questions.