A Beginner’s Guide to Pharmacology

I have received several requests regarding how to learn pharmacology content. You asked, now I’ll answer…to the best of my ability.

Here are the basics to get you off to a great start in your pharmacology course:

1. This course is largely memorization, which could be good news for us nursing students who struggle with choosing the most correct answer out of other correct answers. For the most part, pharmacology is straight-forward, and flashcards work great for this kind of learning. On the flip-side, know that you will never be able to remember every detail about every drug. And that is okay!

2. Know your A & P. A good understanding of A & P is crucial to understanding how the medications work! This makes it much easier to remember how the medication might affect body systems and what adverse reactions or side effects you might see in your patient.

3. Separate into classifications and keep your focus there. Do not memorize individual drugs! Memorize the classes of drugs. And suffixes! Also, a little birdie told me that the proprietary names of drugs will no longer be provided on the NCLEX. This still doesn’t mean that you need to memorize each generic name, but it does increase the importance of memorizing suffixes. By the way, my favorite suffix is “lol” for obvious reasons.

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4. This is the best class to use my handy-dandy tables. I know I say this a lot, but you should really add table-making to your study repertoire. I think the table study technique really shines with pharmacology content. Just dream a little with me…each table could be a class of drugs that you could whip out at a moments notice and study for your next exam or for the exam to end all exams (ahem…the NCLEX).

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5. Go to YouTube! If you ever need a visual, just enter the class of drug into a YouTube search! Here are a few to get you started. If you find some other good videos, post the links in the comment section!

Principles of PharmacologyDiureticsAntibioticsAntidiabeticsCalcium Channel BlockersAutonomic Drugs.

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Flashcards for Common Labs

One of my instructors gave us a friendly reminder about the fact that there will be lab values on the NCLEX! What?! Don’t worry, this isn’t a surprise to me. Definitely a wake-up call though.

So what did I do about it? I made some flashcards using the lab values provided at the University of Minnesota Medical Student Website.

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It took me about 30 minutes to create these cards. I wrote the lab name on the front, and the back has the normal value and the category of the lab (e.g., ABGs, coagulation).

NCLEX Book Review

Hey y’all! It’s been a wild month, and some day I might elaborate on that. But for now, I am just glad it is over.

I had two exams so far this semester, and I want to tell you all about a book I purchased that has helped me prepare for the exams. The book is Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Nursing for the NCLEX-RN Examination, and I am kind of in love. And just so you know…they did not pay me to say these things. Mosby’s probably doesn’t even know I exist.

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The book is broken down into units and sub-units. I am going to lead you through the Childbearing and Women’s Health Nursing unit to give you an idea of what this review book has to offer.

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Each unit is broken up into categories, such as the prenatal period, intrapartum period, and postpartum period. And each category includes sub-categories that explore complications, assessments, etc.

What I like about the review section of this book is that it gives you the important information in a concise and organized manner. After you have studied all you can from your lecture recordings, notes, and book, this is a great tool to turn to for a quick review.

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It has great pictures and diagrams, too!

After I review the content, I can answer NCLEX-style questions directly related to the content I am being tested on by my nursing program. So, if my test covers the prenatal period but not complications during the prenatal period, I can choose to only answer questions about the uncomplicated prenatal period. Pretty cool, huh?!

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The last positive note I want to make about this book is that the rationales are actual rationales! You know what I mean! How many times have you read the rationales in an NCLEX study book and realized that the rationale is just a restatement of the answer? It’s unhelpful and just plain pathetic. Mosby’s is not like that. The rationales are actual explanations! What?! No way!

The only beef I have with this book is that the answers are not on the same page as the questions. Instead of putting the answers in a column right next to the questions, you have to continually flip back and forth while reviewing the answers and rationales. Not a HUGE deal, but this book would be absolutely perfect if they would make this change.

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I’m so ecstatic about this book, I might just do my first giveaway. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, I want to know your stand-by books or tools for intense exam cramming (not that we ever cram for exams, right?). 😉

My Learning Process

I have listed my learning process step-by-step below. This is what works for me. Take from it what you wish!

1. First, I print all of the PowerPoints or lecture outlines. I place them in my binder and divide them by the week. This really soothes my anxious soul by making me think I really have it together.

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2. I read through the assigned chapters and highlight the information that I think is important or information that helps me understand a broader concept. I find that highlighting is helpful because I am basically re-reading what is most important when going back to highlight. You can’t highlight too much, right?

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3. After reading the chapter(s), I flip through the PowerPoints. This gives me a good idea of what my instructor thinks is the key information. I answer the questions that my instructor poses in the PowerPoint. If there is information from the text that I find helpful to my thought process, I insert it in the PowerPoint print out on the appropriate page. I recommend that you use blue ink for notes that you take prior to class (I will explain this later…stay tuned!)

4. I record the lecture with a free app on my phone called Smart Voice Recorder. I use ES File Explorer to compress the audio files so that I can transfer them to my laptop. Once it is on your computer, you can unzip them and use them as is, but I like to use Audacity to edit out all of the breaks.

Smart Voice Recorder for Android

Smart Voice Recorder for iPhone

5. During lecture, I take notes using red ink. This is important because it allows me to quickly see what the instructor noted in class versus what I think is important from my notes on the reading (in blue). I can guarantee that what your instructor says is crucial. It will likely show up on the next exam, especially if they repeat it, shout it, or wink while saying it.

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6. I re-listen to the lecture as soon as I get home (or at least the same day). This is an opportunity to write down anything I missed. Use blue ink again, or choose a third color!

7. I create a table for the topic discussed in lecture. I cannot stress enough how helpful this tool is to my learning. Try it. I know you will like it!

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8. After I create a table, I use it to study for the next test! No note cards, no lecture notes, no book…I only use my tables (and some good friends, too)!

9. Time to start all over again with the material for the next lecture!

What works for you? I would like to know! Please comment below with your thoughts on learning.

My Most Effective Study Tool

If I could only tell you one study technique for nursing school, it would be to create your own tables and use them to study for exams. It is one of the tools I wish I knew about before starting nursing school (if you haven’t started school yet…you’re welcome). Instead, it took a failed test and a humble visit to the NCLEX guru to find this treasure. Totally worth it.

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This is it! Pretty breathtaking, right?

Here is the gist of how I create the study tool that helped me achieve A’s on my nursing exams:

The process begins after I read the content in the textbook, listen to lecture, and re-listen to lecture via my recording. I gather my notes and create an outline of the table.

For the majority of my theory content, I organize the tables by body system and compare medical conditions within that body system. For example, the table on pediatric neurological conditions compares traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome, seizures, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and hydrocephalus.  I usually make a column for the condition, a description of the condition, clinical manifestations, diagnostic methods, treatment, and nursing considerations.

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The first row describes traumatic brain injury, and the second row describes shaken baby syndrome.

For pharmacology concepts, I usually make a table to compare the different classes of medications. To develop a table for antibiotic medications, add a column for each class including penicillins, cephalosporins, tetracyclines, macrolides, aminoglycosides, fluoroquinolones, and sulfonamides. Include examples of common drugs within each class, administration routes, mechanisms of action, indications, adverse effects, and nursing considerations.

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I then take the main points from the PowerPoint and my notes and insert them into the table outline.

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A ton of words. It is not easy to condense this, but somehow I make it work! Take the crucial information and abbreviate. Size 9 font helps, too!

After I insert all of the content from the PowerPoint and notes, I go back to the textbook and peruse the boxes, tables, and care plans for information that either helps me understand the topic (makes things click in my brain) or information that I think the instructors may include on the test. Do not skip this step! I find that the textbook answers the “why” questions. And when I know the reason why, I can usually work through an exam question even if I know nothing about the specific condition that the question addresses.

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Even if you do not know anything about neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), you probably know that there are other neurological disorders that manifest with rigidity, tremors, and altered consciousness. So you can safely assume that a very high temperature is unique to NMS.

There are times when a table is not the best way to outline the information from the lecture and textbook. If something does not work in a table, figure out a way to include the important information in a concise manner that will aid in your studying.

For example, I could not find a way to put level of consciousness descriptors and the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale into a table. I knew that questions about these topics could very well show up on an exam, so instead of just throwing them out because I could not fit them into a table, I just listed the information on a separate page. Nothing wrong with that. This is your study tool. Make it work for you.

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Now that you know how to make an effective table, it is time to make one for yourself! Make it. Use it. A lot. I find it helpful to bring these to study sessions with classmates, and I’ll add things that my classmates picked up on that I missed while studying.

What is your must-have study tool?