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Challenge Authority!

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I have read many blogs from students on this website that say ‘should we ever question what the pharmacist or doctor has told us to do? Even though we are just students with little knowledge, should we mention it if we think there is something wrong?’

Matt Yates wrote in his blog ‘When do we act upon what we see in a prescription’, about some confusing prescriptions he encountered and was unsure what it would take for the pharmacist to consult the doctor. I wonder if many people have found issues with challenging authority in the medical profession. It is my understanding from working in pharmacies that pharmacists don’t like to bother doctors often because doctors don’t like answering queries on their prescriptions. So we are often put in difficult positions of ignoring an issue even though it doesn’t seem right.

In 1966, a time when some questionably ethical psychology experiments were becoming popular, a psychiatrist named Charles Hofling created an experiment known as the Hofling Hospital Experiment. He gathered a group of nurses in a hospital to take part in his experiment.

Throughout their day, each nurse would be contacted by an unknown doctor who would order them to administer a drug to a patient. The drug was a fake placed in a cupboard amongst real drugs, given a fake name and the doctor would tell the nurse to give the patient twice the amount that was recommended on the side of the bottle. It was a test to see if the conflicted nurses who knew that they were administering an overdose of unknown drug to a patient would actually comply. Shockingly, the results showed that 98% of the nurses who took part actually went to the patient to follow through with their orders.

It goes to show how some people find it difficult to challenge those who are in a position of authority or are highly regarded. Sometimes I think students may internalise their roles of being ‘just students’ as a position of inferiority (even some pharmacists to doctors) and may hesitate to admit they think there is something wrong with a prescription.

Perhaps we are worried about damaging our pride if we get something wrong. But if you ever feel unsure about what someone in a higher position is telling you to do, remember the Hofling experiment and speak up! You may just help to save someone's life. 

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