Issue 48 / 14 December 2015

DOCTORS considering wrapping a favourite bottle of pinot noir to give to a colleague this festive season should think twice, according to two medical educators writing in this week’s MJA. (1)
In a Short Report, Associate Professor John Massie, of Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, and Professor Rob Moodie, of the University of Melbourne, who are both involved in medical teaching and education, highlighted the potential pitfalls of Australia’s “ingrained habit” of giving alcohol as gifts in professional settings.
They wrote that a gift of alcohol could be perceived as inappropriate or insensitive to many of the one in five Australians who do not drink alcohol.
The recipient of the alcohol gift could be pregnant, a recovering alcoholic or from a cultural or religious tradition that prohibits alcohol consumption, they wrote. “Others just do not consume alcohol.”
Alcohol was often given at Christmas and as a thank-you gift to conference speakers and conference attendees. The authors suggested that health professionals could be more thoughtful in their choice of gift, suggesting book vouchers, flowers or chocolates as alternatives.
While the authors said they were not seeking to promote abstinence, they were asking doctors to consider the cultural messages around presenting alcohol as a gift. 
“The provision of alcohol as a gift would seem to be contrary to a basic tenet of medical practice, which is to promote health”, they wrote.
Dr John Crozier, co-director of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, told MJA InSight he commended the authors for highlighting the inconsistency of messages around alcohol in the profession.
“We can’t be saying one thing at a higher, policy level, but sending a very different signal [in giving alcohol as a gift], admittedly with good intention”, said Dr Crozier, who is also chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee.
“The medical colleges need to be consistent in their messages. At a policy level, we are very committed to reducing alcohol promotion and doctors are conscious of the burden of disease in Australia that is alcohol related.”
Dr Crozier pointed to research conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education that found in 2010 there were 5554 deaths and 157 132 hospitalisations attributable to alcohol. (2)
The cost to the community of alcohol-related harm was about $36 billion, he said.
“In a lot of our state-based meetings, local hospital meetings, a number of our national meetings, those gifts are common, but as the authors rightly suggest it’s time that we do pause and reflect on the appropriateness of that”, Dr Crozier said.
The MJA authors said many professional bodies had policies on alcohol consumption, but added that they could find none with policies on giving alcohol as a gift.
A spokesperson for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians told MJA InSight that the college did have an internal policy document that states alcohol should not be given as a gift.
AMA vice-president, Dr Stephen Parnis, agreed that doctors needed to be mindful of the recipient when giving gifts.
“It’s important to recognise that there are a significant number of people who don’t drink … where giving a gift of alcohol could rightly be perceived as being insensitive”, Dr Parnis told MJA InSight.
He said reflecting on the appropriateness of alcohol as a gift was an important factor in changing the culture around alcohol.
However, he said a blanket exclusion of alcohol as a gift was not appropriate.
“It is a sensible and reasonable thing to look for alternatives, but there will be some circumstances where giving a nice bottle of wine is a reasonable thing”, Dr Parnis said. 
(Photo: eurobanks / shutterstock)


Should doctors stop giving alcohol as gifts?
  • No – it’s a present, not a statement (61%, 119 Votes)
  • Yes – it sends the wrong message (21%, 40 Votes)
  • Maybe – for some people (18%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 195

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20 thoughts on “Gifts can be too merry

  1. Michele Batey says:

    When I read this article I was absolutely fuming and had so much I wanted to say! But after reading all the comments I felt better as others have already expressed my feelings! Well done to all those who feel this is political correctness gone mad and particularly those who feel that giving chocolates is even more inappropriate!

  2. Dr John Boxall says:

    Surely the biggest loss here has to be the credibility of the authors.  They clearly have not thought through the logic of their comments.

  3. Communicable Disease Control Directorate says:

    Every choice has benefits and costs attached. As a rule I seek the intent behind the action rather than just the action.

    I do have my sensitive points where I react before I check for the intent. If someone were to send me a carton of cigarettes for Xmas I would probably start frothing at the mouth.

    Merry Xmas and may you receive many positive intents.


  4. Ediriweera Desapriya says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking article. I certainly agree with others comments and chocolate should not be a sustitute for alcohol at all. Sugar can be more dangerous and could do more harm to our health than alcohol. Instead, think about giving a monthly pass or a gift voucher for a local gym access.

  5. SA Health Library Network says:

    Being given a gift of wine really irks me. I don’t drink alcohol and never have. I don’t give alcohol (or other drugs) as gifts, so I don’t re-gift it. It’s a pointless thoughtless gift. If giving something to some-one whose tastes are unknown to you, give a mix of high quality “local” products (eg SA has Beerenberg, Haigh’s etc). The recipient is likely to find something to their taste and be able to share the rest. The unthinking giving of alcohol especially to speakers and visitors has always annoyed me, (and I’ve been glad of a chance to share my disgruntlement).

  6. CKN Queensland Health says:

    Unlike my overweight colleague who claimed I was trying to kill him when I gave him a box of chocolates, I’m happy to have both chocolates and alcohol as a token of appreciation. I’ve also accepted drawings, self made craft work, hand cream, soap etc from my patients. As a recipient, I’m always appreciative that someone made the effort to think of me and dont worry about the actual cost/worth/nature of the gift itself.

  7. Andrew Jamieson says:

    We obviously need a Royal Commission on this serious issue of doctors’ Christmas presents perhaps followed up by a nice lucrative class action (Slater and Gordon need the money) to punish those dastardly docs who are trying to turn us all into alcholics. At least the AMA should be issuing a formal apology to all those offended. 

  8. Adrian R. Clifford says:

    I’ve always regarded the articles that appear in MJA Insight each week as having some merit and educational value, but this article has plumbed the nadir of nonsense. We already live in a politically correct enviroment and nanny state, but to suggest that we should not give a gift of alcohol, be it wine or spirits to colleagues, suggesting that they may become alcoholics or promote their alcoholism, (article didn’t specify how many doctors had died from alcoholism) is insulting to the nth. degree. I suggest the author/s get a life and start living in the real world. I would think that the majority of doctors are sufficently intelligent not to gift alcohol to Muslim acquaintences, although I am sure there are some who don’t follow Islamic law to the letter.

  9. Dr Allen Chow says:

    Yes I agree. However a Coles Myer Card would be seen as bribery. Unless it were a bottle of Grange. Merry Xmas to the contributors of the research.

  10. Greg Hockings says:

    Politically correct rubbish. Statistically the chances of inadvertently giving a patient with diabetes or fatty liver disease a box of chocolates is much higher than giving a person with an alcohol problem a bottle of wine. And as for giving offence, it’s the thought behind the gift that counts.

    We badly need a professional medical body that is not into progressive left-wing drivel. Next there will be a policy not to have any Christmas decorations in the waiting room in case a non-Christian patient is offended.

  11. Christoph Ahrens says:

    Do people actually get paid for writing and publishing such nonsense?

  12. Monash University Publisher Packages says:

    If you don’t know whether someone drinks or have cultural insensitivity before giving the gift, you are simply doing it as a formality, it is not coming from your heart.

    You are better off drinking that wine or eating that box of chocolates yourself.

    Can’t agree more with WTF – some dudes have too much spare time.

  13. Sue Ieraci says:

    “The authors suggested that health professionals could be more thoughtful in their choice of gift, suggesting book vouchers, flowers or chocolates as alternatives.” But what if thegift recipient is a dyslexic, allergic diabetic? How thoughtless!

  14. David Schache says:

    I don’t think giving someone a gift of alcohol makes them an alcoholic.  Alcohol in moderation is safe.  I would consider high fat sugar loaded chocolates as much more of a problem.  Obesity is one of our major health problems and I tend to avoid giving chocolates for that reason.  Whatever you give don’t deliver it by car as you may have an accident – motor vehicles are a major cause of death and disability and should be avoided. 

  15. Bob Hoskins says:

    I don’t drink but I happily re-gift bottles of wine given at conferences – I know my colleagues and associates well enough to know their likes and dislikes!  Most professional colleagues also respond well to charitable donations on their behalf.


  16. Health Directorate Library Canberra Hospital says:


    Just shows you can get any rubbish published these days. Worthy of the Gossip mags not the MJA

    These blokes have way too much time on their hands and need to live a little


  17. Numan Kutaiba says:

    I agree with Simon. There are many issues in this article. When we talk about giving alcohol as a gift we are talking about wine for the majority of cases and not hard liquor. We are giving something that can be regifted the same way any other gift is perceived when people do not need it or not necessarily like it. Also, this article is written as if it is targeting people who are unaware of the effects of alcohol! I suppose the next thing is going to be not buying a colleage a drink in a pub after work or not even having alcohol in a Christmas party!

  18. Marcus Aylward says:

    O pur-lease! Nanny-statists gone nuts.

    And no chocolate; no sweets; don’t eat the skin of the roast; non-kosher gifts should be OK but best be halal-certified just in case.

    And swim between the flags. Get plenty of rest. Slip Slop Slap; take a power nap. Oh, and no Christmas lights either, because of our emissions.

    Have I left anything out?

  19. Simon Zilko says:

    I think this is absurd. By the same logic, we should all avoid giving shortbread or chocolates to colleagues in case they’re diabetic or trying to lose weight. After all, this might be very insensitive.

    Those at risk of alcohol related harm are going to be at risk regardless of whether someone gives them a bottle of wine for christmas.

    The same rules can be applied to doctors as the rest of society when buying gifts – you find out if the person actually drinks alcohol/eats chocolates/uses iTunes vouchers etc before you buy it. That’s a pretty easy way to avoid being “perceived as inappropriate or insensitive”.

  20. Andrew Nielsen says:

    Patronising s—s.

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