We surveyed faculty and residents from seven hospitals affiliated with three academic internal medicine training programs about their perceptions of the informational and service benefits vs the risks of ethical compromise involved in interactions with pharmaceutical sales representatives. Questionnaires were returned by 467 (81%) of 575 physicians surveyed. Residents and faculty generally had somewhat negative attitudes toward the educational and informational value of detailing activities at their institutions but indicated that representatives supported important conferences and speakers. Residents were more likely than faculty to perceive contacts with sales representatives as potentially influencing physician decision making. Sixty-seven percent of faculty and 77% of residents indicated that physicians could be compromised by accepting gifts. More than half of the physicians who suggested that such compromise was possible indicated that acceptance of gifts worth more than $100 from drug companies would be likely to compromise a physician's independence and objectivity. A majority of both faculty and house staff favored eliminating presentations by pharmaceutical representatives at their hospitals. Only 10% thought they had had sufficient training during medical school and residency regarding professional interaction with sales representatives.