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The Hope of Healthcare – the Call of Courage, Part 3

Over the years, I have had the privilege of addressing thousands of pharmacists and pharmacy students. While I have not shared this story for quite a while, I believe it is fitting for our consideration of courage.

A researcher did a study on a group of monkeys. They put 10 monkeys in a room with a ladder and a bunch of fresh bananas at the top of the ladder.

As it is not too difficult to imagine, the monkeys were eager to climb the ladder to get to the bananas. However, when one monkey started to climb the ladder, the researchers would spray the other nine monkeys with a hose. No surprise, the nine monkeys did not like this. Every time a monkey tried to climb the ladder, the others got sprayed. 

What developed was that whenever a monkey got close to the ladder, nine monkeys would prevent that one from even attempting to climb the ladder so as not to get sprayed.

Over time, you had a room full of monkeys with a bunch of fresh bananas at the top of a ladder, and NOT ONE monkey would even try to get them.

Being good researchers, the scientists did something interesting. They changed out one single monkey. So, we now had nine old monkeys, and one new. What do you think that new monkey did? Right! He tried to climb the ladder to get the bananas. And guess what the other nine monkeys did? Right again! The other nine monkeys prevented the one monkey from climbing the ladder. Over time the new monkey learned not to climb the ladder, and all 10 monkeys were be in a room with a ladder with fresh bananas at the top and not one of them would try to get the fruit.

The research continued. They traded out another monkey, and the same thing happened. The result each time was 10 monkeys in a room with a ladder and fresh bananas and not one of them tried to get them.

Eventually, the researchers traded out all 10 monkeys. Each time, the same thing happened. The new monkey was forced into submission by the other nine. Each time there was a room with 10 monkeys, a ladder and a bunch of fresh bananas, with none of the monkeys trying to get the bananas. But here is the kicker. None of these monkeys were ever sprayed with the hose. They were all influenced by their predecessors not to climb the ladder. And it worked.

I share this story because it illustrates how we can all become prisoners of the way things were – even when things change.

As pharmacists, we are quite familiar with change.  New treatment guidelines, new patients, new drugs, new treatments, new members of our teams – this list of “news” goes on and on! 

Let me ask you a couple questions:

  1. Can you think of a real-life situation that is similar to this story of the monkeys?
  2. More personally, are there any areas where you are behaving like the monkeys in this story? 

There are stories and situations like the monkeys all around us. These are situations that choke out innovation and prevent us from being and doing the things we could do.

These are situations that call for courage. They call for courage, but they do not call for recklessness. For pharmacists to be the hope of healthcare, there is a definite need for courage. However, going hand and hand with courage is this thing called risk. Stay tuned for my column on risk to learn more.

Between now and then, I encourage you to consider the lesson of the monkeys and think of some areas where personal courage is needed.  

Until next time

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn




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