The Importance of Being Educated

I just went to see my primary care physician for routine medication refills. I don’t think I take an overwhelming number of them, but I do have a decent array of cardiac prescriptions. The woman who checked me in was a “medical assistant” (I asked). She massacred nearly every medication name to the point I really wondered what the point was in asking about them; in addition, it just made her seem incompetent.

Perhaps this is a pet peeve only of mine, but it is a big one. If you are working as a medical professional, it is incumbent on you to know your stuff. I realize that being able to say “metoprolol” correctly has, logically, no effect on whether you can prescribe, administer, or verify it, but as the person with the heart condition, I feel nervous when it becomes “mepropropolol” or similar. I hear “Cardiazem” repeatedly, and it makes my teeth ache. Mispronouncing the tools of your trade screams laziness and ignorance.

Perhaps the medical assistant should be let off the hook, although I argue not, because getting a medication list is approximately 50% of her job. Nurses, however, should get no mercy. Patients lose confidence in nurses who mispronounce medication names and names of illnesses and, probably, any word at all. We are professionals and are held, and should be held, to typical professional standards. Would you want your lawyer to constantly mispronounce things? Of course not. The same applies to us.

I am focusing on pronouncing things because it’s on my radar, but the point extends to taking the time to know what you are administering and treating. If your patient tells you he has Morgellons disease and you don’t know what it is, find out. Patients who have rare conditions typically are happy to inform you about them if you ask. It is not ignorant to say, “I’m not familiar with that. Can you fill me in?” It shows that you are dedicated to staying educated. You could also dash off to Google it, which has the benefit of allowing you to look smart to begin with, but I like learning about things like that from the people who live with them. They know way more than Google. Either way, avoid not finding out about it at all.

Extend the idea of being an educated professional to anything you encounter that you don’t know, even things you sort of know. “Oh, I think that’s a new HIV drug” is not exactly confidence-inspiring. Nurses don’t need to be chemistry experts who know exactly how every single drug works down to the cellular level, but a general idea of what drugs are, how they work, and what the most serious side effects may be should be our goal. In addition, please never answer a patient’s medication question with “I don’t know” unless you follow it immediately with “but I will find out before I give it to you.”

Most people know their weak areas (mine is keeping up with all the new HIV and oral diabetes drugs). Focus on those. Learn about the things you know you are a little foggy on. If you, like my medical assistant today, tend to trip over medical terminology, really focus on it. If you have developed the habit of scribbling down patient histories, intending to look up things you don’t know when you have free time, undevelop it.

As with any habit, inertia works both ways with staying educated. If you develop the habit of staying educated as appropriate for your profession, it is easier to continue doing so. However, if you have fallen into the trap of letting this drug name or that tricky term trip you up, it is just as easy to keep ignoring the problem. Develop good habits.

About Megen Duffy

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Megen Duffy, RN, BA, BSN, CEN, is a practicing nurse, blogger, and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. Megen has practiced in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to prisons.