Ace Pharmacology in 2020

How to Ace Pharmacology in Nursing School

Are you dreading pharmacology? Does hearing the course name make you cringe? Then you have come to the right place! Pharmacology is a challenging subject that can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for many healthcare students. However, you can ace pharmacology like a pro with the right tools and strategies!  To alleviate your anxiety, we have answered some frequently asked questions about studying pharmacology that will help you succeed in the course.

Is studying pharmacology hard?

What do riding a bike, making the perfect pancake, and studying pharmacology all have in common? None of these things are easy the first time we try them. Learning something new is challenging. It’s uncharted territory. We don’t know if we’re doing it right, and it is incredibly uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable means you’re growing and building new knowledge. Long story short: pharmacology is tough, but you’re tougher!

Which is harder, anatomy or pharmacology?

Anatomy focuses on the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and organs of the human body. It requires memorizing specific structures’ appearance, location, function, and connectivity. Understanding these elements requires diagrams and other visual elements. On the other hand, pharmacology focuses on specific medications, how they work, when they are used, how they are administered to patients, and the side effects they may cause. There are lots of medications and unique details to know about each. Both anatomy and pharmacology require memorizing a lot of information. Anatomy is highly visual, but pharmacology is not as visual. Knowing your learning style can determine if anatomy or pharmacology will be challenging for you.

Is there a lot of math in pharmacology?

Pharmacology classes may require you to memorize specific medication doses or calculate the dose for a patient. These calculations are simple and don’t require much math to complete.

How do you pass pharmacology class?

To pass pharmacology, you need to know three things:

  1. How you learn best: Also known as your learning style. Are you a visual learner that likes diagrams and color-coded charts to organize information? Are you an auditory learner that likes to listen to videos or explain concepts out loud? Are you a verbal learner that grasps information by reading and writing it? Are you a kinesthetic learner that learns best by actively doing? Knowing your learning style can help you determine which study activities/ resources will help you learn and retain the material quickly. 
  2. When you learn the best: Pharmacology is challenging. It would help if you tried to do the bulk of your studying when your brain can focus. Otherwise, you may have to spend additional time reviewing medications over and over. To be efficient, choose a time when you study best. If that is in the morning, block off time for pharmacology in the morning. If you are a night owl like me, save your pharmacology studying for those late-night hours.
  3. Where you learn best: Being in an environment conducive to your learning is so important!! You may enjoy being around your classmates, but if you spend 90% of your “study session” talking about an upcoming event… study groups may not be for you. You could also try studying independently in the same room as your classmates and asking questions when you get stuck on a concept. Finding what works for you is key.

Ace Pharmacology in 2020
At this point you might be thinking, “pharmacology is hard, and I have to understand how I learn best, but how do I memorize the drugs??” Well, let me tell you! 

How to Memorize for Pharmacology

As a pharmacy student, I have aced pharmacology exams and struggled with some. For the ones I aced, I used the strategies below. Here are my three techniques for memorizing drugs fast! Hint: this is where Picmonic can help

1. Study early. Study often.

There are A LOT of details in pharmacology. Do not cram for these exams. They will seem very overwhelming, and it will be hard to sort through all the details. Study a little bit each day or each day you have class. This makes it manageable. The more you see a concept or fact, the more likely you retain it. Studying and reviewing medications using Picmonic’s nursing mnemonics will help you achieve this!

2. Use different activities to summarize and supplement what you’ve learned.

Remember those learning styles we talked about? This is where they come into play. Choose activities that correspond to your primary learning style, and don’t be afraid to try different methods too.

Learning Style Suggested Activity
Visual Drawing diagrams or pictures can be used
to understand which drugs fit in a class or
the mechanism of action. 
Visual/Auditory Picmonic videos include mnemonic devices
and visuals that make it easy to remember
and recall information about medications. 
Verbal Charts and tables are a good way to summarize
information and understand which drugs
belong in a class and make it easy to notice key
differences in side effects or administration. 
Verbal Making flashcards helps you summarize the
most important things to know. Not everything
deserves a flashcard. These flashcards can be
used to quiz yourself later.
Verbal Writing a drug class at the top and its suffix
(ACE inhibitors -pril) below this write key
information like the drugs in the class,
mechanism of action, specifics about each
drug like administration and side effects.
Verbal/Auditory Take 5-10 minutes to study your notes on a
specific topic. Once the time is up, write down
everything you remember on a blank sheet
of paper or white board. Check your answers
with your notes and highlight things you missed.
Auditory Being able to explain concepts to others is
a true test of if you understand it. Challenge
yourself more by seeing if you can explain
in a way a 4th grader could understand.
Auditory Listing all the drugs in a class, talking through
mechanisms of action or recalling key side
effects is a good way to see what you remember.
Visual/Verbal/Auditory For example, emergency drugs to “lean”
on in crisis are Lidocaine, Epinephrine,
Atropine Sulfate, and Naloxone. Little phrases
like this make it easy to recall. 
Kinesthetic If you learn a medication is administered
subcutaneously. You can pretend to administer
it each time you say it aloud or think about it.
This way the medication and the action
will be connected synonymous. Muscle memory
can help during exams. 
Kinesthetic Look through textbooks or class notes to find
examples where you can apply what you’ve learned.

3. Quiz yourself! 

The difference between step 2 and step 3 is that now you are completing these activities without notes. For example, try filling in a blank diagram or chart. Complete the quizzes associated with the Picmonic videos. Use flashcards when on the go. After quizzing yourself, ALWAYS evaluate what you know and don’t know. Spend time reviewing things you missed, and try again!

Understanding how you study best and using the right strategies will help you succeed in pharmacology. Not only will these strategies help you ace your pharmacology course, but they will help you retain the information for board exams and clinical practice. It’s never too early to prepare for life after school!

Biography/ About Libby Shelton

Libby Brown headshot

Libby Shelton is a PharmD Candidate from Purdue University. She started her Instagram, @learn.with.libby, to share her pharmacy school journey and offer advice to other pharmacy and healthcare students. She shares posts about the many life lessons pharmacy school has taught her and unique opportunities for healthcare students to gain critical skills. Follow her on Instagram @learn.with.libby for more advice and to see what life after pharmacy school looks like for her.

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