Background: This study investigated the 'gift-relationship' between pharmaceutical companies and doctors. Methods: The study was based on a survey questionnaire of 823 medical specialists from across Australia. The aim of this study was to investigate gifts offered to medical specialists in Australia by pharmaceutical companies, financial support actively sought by medical specialists for activities other than research and to consider what is ethically appropriate. Results: A high percentage of specialists received offers of food (96%), items for the office (94%), personal gifts (51%) and journals or textbooks (50%). Most specialists were invited to product launches, symposia or educational events (75-84%) and 52% received offers of travel to conferences. A high proportion of offers were accepted (66-79%) except invitations to product launches (49%), sponsored symposia (53%) and offers of travel that included partners (27%). Fifteen per cent of specialists requested financial support from pharmaceutical companies for activities and items, including conferences, travel, educational activities, salaries and donations to specific funds. The study outlined guidelines on gifts from pharmaceutical companies and differing standards applying to gifts and grants for travel. We found that, although most gifts and requests for support complied with professional and pharmaceutical industry guidelines, some - including personal gifts, tickets to sporting events, entertainment and travel expenses for specialists' partners - did not. Conclusion: To ensure that physicians' judgements are free from real or perceived influence from industry and to maintain public trust, we support a shift towards more conservative standards on gifts and support for travel evident in recent guidelines.