Tips for Passing Med-Surg and Pharmacology in Nursing School 

It’s time to crack the code on how to pass med-surg! Use the tips compiled below from Chioma Okeke (@nursechioma_) to study med-surg and pharmacology in nursing school. 

Here are some key points you should take note of from the webinar:

Why is med-surg so hard? 

Med-surg is challenging because of the vast content, detailed information, and more abstract information that needs to be learned.

How to study for med surg topics 

Studying at Home

For your everyday subjects, you can spend time studying to memorize and learn topics quickly. For med-surg, you have to learn the topics in layers since it’s more detailed, with intricate information. It’s almost like learning a different language.

There are different steps to learning and studying med-surg. You must know anatomy, physiology, biology, and microbiology to comprehend it—these topics build on one another like Legos!

How to pass med surg: Study tips

To pass med-surg, you need to know how to study med-surg. Learn the information in a simplified manner rather than focusing solely on the big picture with the following study tips.

First, use books. While your textbook may be a nice resource, it’s big, bulky, and a lot to digest. Try using multiple, simplified books to make med-surg easier to understand.

Second, use visual aids. A lot of the time, things won’t click until you see them visually. Activate different pathways in your brain with visual images paired with textual information.

Third, get in your hands-on training. This means maximizing office hours in nursing school, being on time, and spending more time in your clinicals if possible. Kinesthetic learning is extremely helpful, so try it.

Fourth, use flashcards! They’re great for memorization and testing yourself, but be mindful of how you learn best.

Finally, watch video breakdowns. Find one or two go-to YouTube channels or use Picmonic’s short mnemonic nursing videos to break down med-surg concepts. 

How to tackle a Med-surg exam question

Before you take your med-surg exam, you should be able to identify keywords and understand what the question is asking you. Let’s try to strategize how to approach a question and get it right with a heart failure example!

heart failure diagram

Definition: Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump sufficient blood to meet the needs of the tissues for oxygen and nutrients. Right-sided and left-sided heart failure have different manifestations.

Right-sided heart failure: When the right ventricle fails, congestion in the peripheral tissues and the viscera predominates. The right side of the heart cannot eject blood or accommodate all the blood that normally returns to it from the venous circulation. Increased venous pressure leads to JVD and increased capillary hydrostatic pressure throughout the venous system.

It might seem like detective work but pay close attention to the keywords. Look for the bolded keywords above when identifying right-sided heart failure.

Left-sided heart failure: Pulmonary congestion occurs when the left ventricle cannot effectively pump blood out of the ventricle into the aorta and the systemic circulation. Pulmonary venous blood volume and pressure increase, forcing fluid from the pulmonary capillaries into the pulmonary tissues and alveoli, causing pulmonary interstitial edema and impaired gas exchange.

Acronyms, associations, and memory aids might help you in this instance. You can think about the lungs when you think of left-sided heart failure. Highlight the path of physiology of the disease, signs and symptoms, and what makes them different.

For treatment, consider what’s going on with the patient. Your treatment plan may consist of the following:

  • Reduction of salt intake (<2 grams per day)
  • Fluid restriction
  • Smoking cessation 
  • Administration of the diuretic medications such as furosemide (Lasix)
  • High fowler’s positioning (sit upright)

Oftentimes, you can identify if a patient is getting worse with left-sided heart failure as they’ll need pillows to better position themselves to breathe better.

Pharmacology Topics to Study in Nursing School 

Passing pharmacology in nursing school is beyond just knowing the drugs. You need to know the information below to learn how to pass pharmacology in nursing school.


  • Administer blood products and evaluate client response
  • Access venous access devices including tunneled, implanted, and central lines
  • Perform calculations needed for medication administration
  • Evaluate client response to medication (eg. therapeutic effects, side effects, adverse reactions)
  • Educate the client about medications 
  • Prepare and administer medications using the rights of medication administration
  • Review pertinent data before medication (eg. contraindications, lab results, allergies, potential interactions)
  • Participate in the medication reconciliation process
  • Titrate dosage of medication based on assessment and ordered parameters (eg. giving insulin according to blood glucose levels, titrating medication to maintain specific blood pressure)
  • Evaluate the appropriateness and accuracy of a medication order for a client
  • Monitor intravenous infusion and maintain the site (eg. central, PICC, epidural, and venous access devices)
  • Administer pharmacological measures for pain management
  • Administer controlled substances within regulatory guidelines (eg. witness, waste)
  • Administer parenteral nutrition and evaluate client response (eg. TPN)

Strategies to use when studying for Pharmacology 

Strategizing will allow you to effectively study pharmacology. Use the steps below when studying.

  1. Identify potential contraindications of the medication before administration
  2. Organize the medications into groups, classifications, and categories in a chart
  3. Pay attention to keywords
  4. Pay attention to the order of the administration

The better you can organize drugs and their facts, the faster you’ll learn them. Try to remember suffixes and prefixes and memorize and identify at least two side effects in your chart or flashcards.

pharmacology drugs

You should also remember the difference between side effects and adverse effects.

Side effects are undesirable effects of taking a medication; adverse effects are life-threatening effects of taking a medication. 

Side effects may not require stopping the medication or notifying the physician in a clinical setting, and they can be treated. Adverse effects, however, require an immediate halt in the medication and notifying the physician. 

For more study tips and tricks, read our ultimate study guide for pharmacology

How to tackle a Pharmacology exam question 

Let’s put your skills to the test! Find out how to study for pharmacology nursing questions with the example below. 


The client has been admitted for care after a traumatic brain injury. The client has a history of atrial fibrillation and obesity. Which prescribed medication does the nurse question?

  1. Warfarin
  2. Ondansetron
  3. Mannitol
  4. Pantoprazole

Answer: The client has been admitted for care after a traumatic brain injury. The client has a history of atrial fibrillation and obesity. Which prescribed medication does the nurse question?

  1. Warfarin
  2. Ondansetron
  3. Mannitol
  4. Pantoprazole

The bolded keywords should hint at the answer. The client may have taken warfarin at home for atrial fibrillation, but this is an unsafe anticoagulant to use immediately after a brain trauma. 

Since the patient has a TBI, they’re at high risk of bleeding. Warfarin (Coumadin) would cause the patient to bleed intensely. 


The treatment of clients with comorbidities is complex. The client with a traumatic brain injury is most at risk for progression of that injury and brain death. The nurse measures to reduce the risk of bleeding, to decrease intracranial pressure, and to minimize complications. The incidence of complications increases due to comorbidities. The client’s atrial fibrillation is not the most life-threatening issue for this client; however, the continuation of the warfarin (Coumadin) could result in significant bleeding and irreversible progression of brain injury. 

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