Teaching of medical pharmacology: the need to nurture the early development of desired attitudes for safe and rational drug prescribing

Med Teach. 2009 Sep;31(9):847-54. doi: 10.1080/01421590903168119.


Pharmacology, as a basic medical science discipline, provides the scientific basis of therapeutics, i.e. the scientific foundation for safe and rational prescribing of drugs. The public, lay media, and the medical profession have raised serious concerns over the high incidence of errors of drug prescribing which compromise patient safety, including death of some patients, attributed mainly to inadequate teaching of medical pharmacology and, consequently, to medical graduates lacking skills in safe and effective drug prescribing. There is also overwhelming evidence that the pervasive and prevalent doctor-drug industry relationships have a strong influence over the prescribing habits and drug education of doctors. The British Pharmacological Society and American Association of Medical Colleges have crafted some insightful guidelines, including the learning of desired attitudes, for designing a medical pharmacology curriculum aimed at enhancing patient safety. This article will critically review the major issues relating to errors of drug prescribing, including the need to nurture the early development of desired attitudes which foster safe and rational drug prescribing. A simple educational approach, using a task analysis of drug prescribing, is applied to identify desired attitudes which should be incorporated into a basic pharmacology course for medical students in the twenty-first century.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Drug Prescriptions* / standards
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Educational Measurement
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Models, Educational
  • Pharmacology / education*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Schools, Medical
  • Students, Medical*
  • Teaching* / methods
  • Time Factors