Pharmacology Tips for Nursing Students – From a Nurse!

by | Mar 3, 2023 | Nursing Student | 2 comments

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. Let’s go over some pharmacology tips for nursing students.


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 in 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 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 shortcut 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 it into categories, and use them on the go.

Here are some websites that offer a feature to create flashcards to memorize pharmacology for nursing students:

  1. Quizlet –
  2. StudyBlue –
  3. Brainscape –
  4. Cram –
  5. Anki –

All of these websites offer a way to create flashcards for pharmacology and other nursing subjects. Some of these websites also offer pre-made flashcard sets created by other nursing students or educators. I hope this helps!

Make it ridiculous

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. 

Shorten and spread our your studying

Spaced repetition is an effective study technique to learn pharmacology well.

Spaced repetition is an effective study method because it takes advantage of the brain’s natural learning process. Our brains are wired to learn through repetition and recall, and spaced repetition optimizes this process by presenting information at increasingly longer intervals.

Rather than sitting down for 3-4 hours at once, consider shorter but more frequent study sessions.

By using spaced repetition, you are reinforcing your memory of the material and building stronger neural connections, which leads to better retention and recall of the information in the long term. This is why spaced repetition is an effective study method for learning and retaining information over the long term.

Picmonic is a perfect for spaced repetition because you can take very short mini-quizzes, or read bite sized information to reinforce what you’ve learned throughout the day on their app. (And don’t forget to use promo code FRESHRN for 20% off!)

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! Recording yourself reading your notes, and listening to it 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!


More resources for nursing students

 Oh, and nursing students…



Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?

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  1. Diane Lansing

    Hi Kati,
    These are great suggestions. Pharmacology was my most difficult subject in nursing school.

    You mentioned using videos as additional resources. One resource that I still use is Khan Academy (it’s free!). I find that they explain a lot of complex topics in easy to understand language.

  2. Nick Angelis

    Great ideas! Learning the prefix or suffix corresponding with a drug class is so valuable, and it helps isolate new, unique drugs with novel mechanisms of action.


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