When patients seek medical treatment, they put their well-being in the hands of medical professionals. These caregivers are expected to provide treatment and care correctly and honestly; most of them do.  However, mistakes happen and sometimes, rarely, medical professionals may have malicious intents. One of the best ways for a patient to protect him or her self is to stay informed about the treatment and procedures they are undergoing.

Charles Cullen’s story is a prime example of medical personnel gone awry. In 2004, Cullen pled guilty to 24 counts of medical murder in at least nine hospitals during his 16-year career as a nurse. The former Navy electronics technician hacked computerized drug cabinets at hospitals to gain access to the specific drugs he used to kill his patients.

The patients Cullen murdered did not share any common characteristics or traits; his targets were random. Cullen was able to stay under the radar for so long because he administered large doses of drugs that are normally used to save lives, such as digoxin, a drug commonly used to regulate heart rhythm.

Even though Cullen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 24 murders and five attempted murders he committed. Cullen admitted to thinking he killed in between 30 to 40 patients. Charles Graeber, author of The Good Nurse, speculates that additional murders are unaccounted for.

However, one rarely hears of a serial killer nurse successfully committing murder for 16 years. Yet, with loopholes in the drug protocols, such as the ease Cullen had in hacking the drug cabinets, crimes being committed by medical professionals is still a reality.

With that said, there should always be a level of patient awareness for drugs and treatments being administered. Patients under the care of any medical institution should always ask questions about why they are being prescribed. A patient who has asked questions and is fully aware of the course of action for their treatment can easily spot red flags of any crimes being committed by medical personnel or even medical malpractice. As a patient, there is a level of vulnerability, and while we like to think that all medical personnel are trustworthy, Charles Cullen’s story reminds us that is not always the case.

Krysta Loera is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @KrystaLoera