Pharmacology is often considered the most challenging subject in nursing school. Naturally, who wouldn't be a little intimidated at the task of learning dozens of drugs in a single semester? Pharmacology is tough because similar to your pre-requisite anatomy class, you will be expected to memorize a lot of facts and then face more knowledge-based rather than application style questions.
Just like any other course, the way that you choose to study pharmacology will influence the grades you make and the amount of information you can retain. Most students, when faced with the insane amount of facts that must be learned in pharm, decide to devote the majority of their time struggling to make flashcards. Kleneice and I encourage you to seek alternative methods rather than flashcards. Why? We were not oblivious to the overwhelm and panic on the faces of our classmates as we watched them sort through mountains of flashcards. Another observation that I quickly realized was that the people with the mountains of flashcards weren't doing so good on the tests. We are going to share with you the study method we relied on to ace pharmacology.
1. Take a look at the drug on a Pharmacology app like Medscape
Pharmacology apps are fantastic resources for healthcare workers so naturally you will find the most important information that you need to know as a nurse about the drug. The apps are also great at condensing the information that is presented into your textbook, in order to quickly familiarize yourself with the must know facts about a certain drug. I found that Medscape (which is completely free!) was most helpful in identifying adverse effects, contraindications, and drug interactions.
2. Review your class notes
More than likely in lecture your professor has stressed at least some characteristics of the drugs that they want you to know. Pay special attention in class to the facts that your teacher emphasizes and be sure to document these in your notes so you know exactly what is worth committing to memory.
3. Skim your textbook
As usual, your textbook should be one of your last points of reference. After reviewing the information on the app and your class notes, turn to your textbook to fill in any missing links. You could also refer to your ATI pharmacology textbook or NCLEX prep book at this step.
4. Make your spreadsheet
Now its time to get to the meat and potatoes of this study method, which relies on the creation and study of spreadsheets to commit the facts about the drugs to memory. You'll want to create a spreadsheet for each category of drugs like pain meds, blood pressure meds, respiratory, GI, etc (whatever categories make the most sense to you!)
Go ahead and open google sheets, excel, or some other spreadsheet software (or you could just make tables!) and create cells for the name of the drug, therapeutic action, adverse effects, contraindications, drug interactions, and patient education. Of course, depending on what your professor wants you to know, you could add or omit some categories! Using the information you have gathered from your app, notes, textbook, and supplemental books, add brief facts or summaries to each category of the drug.
The magic in this method is that studying by referring to a spreadsheet shifts your focus from learning each drug individually to learning by grouping which is a lot more effective. It is much easier to learn the characteristics of a drug when it shares several features with other drugs. When you identify similarities between drugs, go ahead and color code them with the same color. What if there aren’t any similarities? The reverse is just as effective. Learning which drugs are polar opposites is also a great way to strengthen your memory.
What if you just can’t fight the urge to make flashcards because that’s what everyone else is doing? At least do yourself a favor and make your flashcards online using a service like Quizlet. Why? Because Quizlet has this awesome feature of allowing you to turn your flashcards into a test so that you can assess your knowledge later.
5. Take the time to truly commit the knowledge to memory
Ask yourself why certain characteristics of the drug make sense. Pay attention to how the mechanism of action is responsible for the therapeutic and adverse effects. For example, it makes sense that albuterol can cause tachycardia because the drug works by stimulating the beta receptors of the heart and lungs. How are the adverse effects linked to the contraindications, drug interactions, and patient education? Every fact about a drug is linked to another component of the drug. When you understand the why, answering questions about the drugs becomes infinitely easier!
6. Answer as many questions as you can!
We're pretty sure you knew this one was coming! Answering NCLEX style pharmacology questions is truly one of the best ways to prepare for your exams. This will help you identify any areas that need more of your focus. Besides, the best way to increase your scores on your tests is to practice taking as many test questions as possible.
Bonus: if your courses allow it, try to link your med-surg and pharmacology studies. It makes things a lot easier to understand if you can learn how a drug works to treat a disease while learning about the disease itself. A bonus is that in one study session you would have studied two subjects in half the time, and who doesn’t love a time saving method in nursing school?
Studying pharmacology truly doesn't have to be as hard as everyone says it is. By investing time in understanding how certain features of a drug are connected or how multiple drugs are related or different, you are making a commitment to understanding the "why". When you truly understand the "why" it won't matter if you can't memorize the million facts about a single drug.
Are you excited to try out this method of studying pharmacology? What study tips have helped you in your pharmacology course? Was this post helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below! As always, we love hearing from you :)