Pharmacology is challenging in nursing school, but it doesn’t have to destroy your life, soul, and all that you hold dear. If you take a few steps in organizing yourself before you tackle this class, it will make it easier to learn and recall later down the line.
Pharmacology tips – just for nursing students
The way nursing school approaches teaching pharmacology varies widely, but the subject matter remains the same. There are different pieces of information to know; some require straight memorization and repetition (dosages, names, antidotes), while others require some deeper understanding (like the mechanism of action, applying it to a clinical situation).
Know that while you’re starting to learn pharmacology, it’s not one method that works for all aspects of this course. One must leverage both memorization and deep thinking to fully comprehend all that encompasses medications. You can’t just take one study tactic and think you can use that to understand each aspect. The information is just different. Also, what further complicates things is that different professors teach this process different ways. Therefore, take some time to develop a routine that works for you and carry this method across different courses.
Focus on the mechanism of action
Whatever it takes, learn the mechanism of action inside and out. If how your professor has explained it doesn’t click, find some good videos, podcasts, or other explanations. Understanding this is helps you to predict side effects, adverse reactions, antidotes, and more. If you understand the mechanism of action, you have a solid understanding of that class of medications, and be able to troubleshoot questions easier.
Here’s an example of a great, free YouTube video of the mechanism of action behind NSAIDs.
Once you think you get it, try to explain it to someone else. If you don’t have someone to explain it to, explain it to yourself on your phone and listen back to it to see if it makes sense.
Memorize with intention
There is no short cut around a few things like prefixes, suffixes, generic and trade names, and dosages. You can create flashcards with pen and index cards, color-coding along the way… or, you can download an app. The wonderful things about apps are that you’re saving paper, can change them easily, organize into categories, and use them on the go.
Whichever method, devote time to memorizing these things and doing flashcard drills. While you’re memorizing, it can be helpful to make up ridiculous things to help jog your memory. For example, beta blockers are funny so they always make me LOL, or ARB’s are what pirates use for their hypertension because they make them go arrrrrr(b)ggg, or lisinopril has a license to always throw an ACE (inhibitor) down in cards … you get the picture! The more ridiculous, the better. I found that if I could connect something to my favorite books/TV shows/movies, I remembered it better.
Check out the MedMaster podcast on NRSNG – it’s a helpful way to reiterate topics on the go.
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Spread your study time out
Don’t just try to cram it all the night before – that’s too much to retain at once. If you know you have a med quiz in 7 days, use today to create your flashcards and your first time going over the mechanism of action. Schedule yourself for one focused hour tomorrow; part of the time diving into the mechanism of action over again, take a 5 minute break, and then spend the rest of the time drilling cards.
During downtime throughout the day (on the bus, in the elevator, waiting for your doctor’s appointment, whatever) go through some more cards. Bonus if they’re on your phone and you don’t have to remember to bring them everywhere.
If you can devote a specific amount of time each day to this, it makes the task much more manageable than trying to understand and remember it all within a day or two.
Save your notes
Medications come up over and over again and may be applicable in multiple courses. You’ll learn about magnesium sulfate in your OB/women’s health course, but see it again in med-surg and/or critical care as well. Keep track of notes, paper or electronic flashcards, and memory devices. Even if they’re ridiculous or inappropriate – if it works for you, it works.
And don’t make the mistake of forgetting the awesome memory device you created – make sure you write it down! That way when you go back to studying for another course, you can pick up where you left off rather than trying to think of another way to remember the information.
NCLEX® tip! Chances are if you get a medication question on the NCLEX, it’ll be the generic name of the medication and not the trade name. Make sure you know these, which can be a bit challenging since they’re typically longer.
Do what works best for you
Pharmacology doesn’t have to suck. Be intentional and organized with your study time. Focus during this time – close your apps, your phone, and focus. Do this for 20-25 minutes at a time, followed by a break. Repeat for a few hours, then take a long break.
Leverage resources that work for you, not your friends, your classmates, or your instructor – you! That may look like listening to the MedMaster Podcast during your commute, a flashcard app while you’re waiting for class to start, and the Khan Academy free YouTube vides to solidify the mechanism of action… or that may look like the textbook for the mechanism of action, paper flashcards, writing things out, and quizzing yourself. Figure out your unique recipe for success and stick to it!
There are quite a few different options here from podcasts to blog posts to courses and even a subscription services.
However, my favorite and one with the most bang for your buck is the NRSNG Academy. Their medication resources built into each course, and it’s pharm course, are incredible. You can use it throughout your entire nursing school journey, not just for pharmacology. Every single module has NCLEX® points, they also have a simulation NCLEX exam, a massive database of NCLEX practice questions in addition to a huge content review in Fundamentals, OB, Peds, Med-Surg, EKG, Cardiac, Pharmacology, Labs, and my favorite… Test Taking.
Click here to try out all of the below courses, question banks, flashcard app, and more for only $1!
- Medication Administration Basics for Nursing Students – The FreshRN Blog
- 3 Tools to Master Nursing Pharm (Pharmacology Doesn’t Have to be Your Enemy) – NRSNG blog post
- 3 Pharmacology Tips to Help You Pass the NCLEX – The Nerdy Nurse Blog
- How to Survive Nursing School Masterpost – The FreshRN Blog
- NRSNG Med Master Podcast
- NRSNG Med Master Course
- A sample of topics / sections
- Crystalloid solutions
- Drug card template
- 50 most commonly prescribed meds
- Common medication prefixes and suffixes
- Deep dives with video lectures of common meds and mechanism of action
- A sample of topics / sections
- NRSNG Academy – $1 trial
- Flashcard app
- 10 video courses (including a pharmacology – and I taught a few courses!)
- 2 question banks, audio/image database
- Simulation NCLEX® (SIMCLEX)
- 12 Tips to Answering Any Pharmacology Question – NRSNG Podcast, episode 169
- Epocrates – a really popular medication resource used by many clinicians and hospitals
- Micromedix – expensive to purchase yourself, but many hospitals have this available. Check it out, it is incredibly valuable. At my last hospital, there was a Micromedix link within the Medication Administration Record (MAR) of the Electronic Health Record (EHR) and I used this reference every single shift.
Oh, and nursing students…