The Power of Saying “I Don’t Know” – Drug Info Questions

I’ve been a practicing pharmacist for years now, and there aren’t many days that go by where I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer or there isn’t a well defined answer.  Often times in my current role, I get asked the toughest questions.  If it was easy, the MD, NP, PA, etc. would know the answer or easily be able to look it up.  I just want to encourage you that it is ok to admit that you don’t know something.

One of my favorite stories (not at the time), was taking one of my kids to the highly respected pediatrician in town who’d been practicing for 30+ years and he assessed one of our kids and stated that he had never seen that before.  My kid had inflammation of his eyelid, just on one side and the skin was very dry and sloughing off.  This was obviously unnerving as parents, but for some reason it really gave me peace of mind that he wasn’t going to make something up if he didn’t know.  It also gave me security as a practicing professional to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t heard of that before”.  Our pediatrician had the comfort level to simply say he didn’t know what something was.

You might wonder what happened in our situation.  The pediatrician did what I would do.  He did some research and asked a colleague if he had ever seen this.  The other pediatrician had not seen anything like this either.  They were thinking that it was simply some irritation or exposure to a chemical or something that was causing the eyelid skin to react. It wasn’t a really serious situation and it resolved with a small amount of steroid cream for a few days.

Saying I don’t know is really an opening to learn something new, talk to another expert, and grow as a professional.  In my next post, I will lay out three situations where I wasn’t sure what to do.

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  1. Michael

    You made me feel good about saying those very same words in a recent comment I made in answer to a comment on your recent post about “eating our own”. You are right on the money.

    • Eric Christianson

      Thanks Michael!

  2. Emily

    I’m a nurse practitioner and I think that one of the most powerful and reassuring things a provider (pharmacist/nurse/NP/DR) can say is I don’t know, but I can look in to it. The field of medicine has come so far and is making leaps and bounds every day especially when it comes to meds. Continued learning is the only way to even try to keep up.

  3. Mariana

    When I was a pharmacy student on rotations, I heard many preceptor pharmacists telling us to say “I don’t know and will look it up”. Even over 10 years past graduation, I still say the same to prescribers when discussing meds which I don’t know much about, or say “ I don’t often see this medication in my practice and I don’t it”. Thank you for bringing this up, because I know pharmacists who don’t ever admit they don’t know something even when one can tell they really don’t, it’s a form of pride, I guess.


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Written By Eric Christianson

February 7, 2018

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