Readiness to prescribe: using educational design to untie the Gordian Knot

Ciara Lee, Richard McCrory, Mary P Tully, Angela Carrington, Rosie Donnelly, Tim Dornan

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IntroductionJunior residents routinely prescribe medications for hospitalised patients with only arms-length supervision, which compromises patient safety. A cardinal example is insulin prescribing, which is commonplace, routinely delegated to very junior doctors, difficult, potentially very dangerous, and getting no better. Our aim was to operationalise the concept of ‘readiness to prescribe’ by validating an instrument to quality-improve residents’ workplace prescribing education.MethodsGuided by theories of behaviour change, implementation, and error, and by empirical evidence, we developed and refined a mixed-methods 24-item evaluation instrument, and analysed numerical responses from Foundation Trainees (junior residents) in Northern Ireland, UK using principal axis factoring, and conducted a framework analysis of participants’ free-text responses.Results255 trainees participated, 54% women and 46% men, 80% of whom were in the second foundation year. The analysis converged on a 4-factor solution explaining 57% of the variance. Participants rated their capability to prescribe higher (79%) than their capability to learn to prescribe (69%; p<0.001) and rated the support to their prescribing education lower still (43%; p<0.001). The findings were similar in men and women, first and second year trainees, and in different hospitals. Free text responses described an unreflective type of learning from experience in which participants tended to 'get by' when faced with complex problems.DiscussionOperationalising readiness to prescribe as a duality, comprising residents’ capability and the fitness of their educational environments, demonstrated room for improvement in both. We offer the instrument to help clinical educators improve the two in tandem.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS One
Early online date24 Jan 2020
Publication statusEarly online date - 24 Jan 2020


  • Prescribing education
  • Workplace learning
  • Insulin therapy
  • Residency education
  • Medical education


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