How I Passed Pharmacology + Pathophysiology

Two years ago to the day, I was studying for my pharmacology class. And today is my day off from work as an RN! It's absolutely insane how the time flies... but let this be proof to you that there is indeed a light at the end of the long, dark, neverending tunnel that is nursing school. I promise!

My nursing program actually combined our pharmacology course with pathophysiology and so it was a monster of a class called PathoPharm. It was brutal, as it was our first semester of nursing school. Not only was it an insanely difficult course, we didn't even know how to study for nursing school exams! So I'm throwing it back to those days 2 years ago to share how I passed pathopharm. Before you go on, realize that you have everything you need, in terms of resources and study materials. A lot of nursing students, including myself at the time, are quick to look beyond their study guides and textbooks. No no no. Don't buy some random person's notes on the internet, and don't use notes from a different school. Your professor is the one making these exams. So why would you use another professor's powerpoints?

Here's what I highly recommend you purchase to excel in your pharmacology course: a large whiteboard, lots of flashcards (I liked to get the big ones and cut them in half to make mini ones), and colorful pens/expo markers.

1. Flashcards are everything. 

I swear by using flashcards for any kind of memorization. And let's be real, pharm is brute memorization. Sorry to break it to ya this way! But there are tricks: Group those medications in their classes. For example: beta-blockers almost always end in -olol, and benzos almost always end in -zam or -pam. So don't go make a flashcard for each beta blocker. Make a flashcard for beta blockers in general, and their general side effects: slower HR, fatigue, etc. 

If you're in a time crunch, you can buy flashcards. However, I highly recommend making your own. The act of writing information with your own handwriting secures that information in your brain, as you can remember when you wrote something.

It also helps to color coordinate your drug groups. For example, since beta blockers are a cardiac drug group, make it red! For antipsychotic drug groups, use purple! Using colors makes studying a little more fun, and the psychology of color-coordinating your study material is fascinating. And it works.  

2. Realize that you can't memorize every single drug and side effect out there.

I think it's easy to panic at first. Because you think that you have to memorize all the drugs EVER and oh my gosh that means replacing those lyrics from that NSYNC song from 10 years ago!? No no no. You don't have you memorize everything. Because you can't. Not you personally, but not anyone ever. This goes back to tip #1. Group those medications together. What are narcotics mainly used for? What are its main side effects? Who mainly needs it? Once you get the hang of that, you'll start thinking like a nurse! Because let's be real, I don't remember the nitty gritty side effects of vasopressors, but I remember that they're mainly used for hypotensive clients and certain ones work more quickly than others. Easy. Simple.

3. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. 

This is why I highly recommend that you get a whiteboard. I used mine all throughout nursing school, and my most effective study tactic was standing with my notebook in one hand, and expo marker in another, standing while I wrote out all my meds + side effects, over and over and over again. No whiteboard? No problem. Write it out on paper. Over and over again. Until you get sick of the material and you see it in your sleep! The beauty of writing something out is that you remember this action. You remember how you wrote something, and you remember what color you wrote it in, and you remember what you wrote before it, and after it, and why you wrote something in the way you did. You are making the material yours by re-writing it in your own handwriting, rather than memorizing something that your professor typed up. 

4. Mnemonics!

Pinterest is an amazing way to find cute pictures or diagrams, but the best mnemonics come from your own mind. Let it be yours, let it be dirty or funny or stupid or silly, as long as it makes sense to you. Here are some that I found helpful: 

 The best part is that there are a ton more options online. If you want to make it fun, make your own! 


5. Connect it to a memory and make that warfarin yours.

Last but definitely not least, connect that drug to a patient interaction you've had. Or, connect it to a Grey's Anatomy/ER episode. "PUSH ONE OF EPI!!!" So when you're tested on the therapeutic class of epinephrine and its side effects, remember what that actor looked like when he/she needed that epi. How did he/she react after that dose of epi? Did they need another drug to add onto the work of epi? How did they administer that epi? 

Most importantly, don't cram. I know it can be easy to, especially when all your assignments pile up and you can't help but push some things aside for later. But because pharmacology is so memorization based, you need to expose yourself to the content on a daily basis so that you can truly remember and recall the material. Carry those mini flashcards everywhere, refer to them when you have some free time during your walk to class or while waiting in line for your food. And be sure to stay organized so that you aren't studying the wrong meds for that exam, or you're leaving out a whole lecture for that exam (trust me, it's happened... and I survived).

I hope these tips are helpful. There's no 1 surefire way to be successful in pharmacology. And there's no one perfect study method. Find what works for you and keep using it over and over again. And remember that you're here to be a nurse - not a pharmacist. So think of the big picture rather than stressing over the tiny details. You can do this. And you will.