I will never forget my first pharmacology exam. I had studied tirelessly for weeks, just to find out that half of our class failed it, including me. I was overwhelmed with the number of drugs I had to learn, about and all of the details that go with each one: generic name, brand name, all the possible side effects, contraindications, and nursing interventions.
I knew I had to change HOW I studied.
The way I normally studied for all of my nursing classes WAS NOT going to help me pass this dreaded class.
However, you CAN have success with these top pharmacology study tips for nurses!!!
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Top 11 Tips To Pass Pharmacology for Nurses
1. Do NOT Procrastinate
If you’re a natural procrastinator, I want to warn you, that will not work for pharmacology.
Before embarking on the task of learning hundreds of medications, get yourself organized to maximize your success. Grab a planner (this one’s simple, clean, and comes in different sizes) and start by writing in all of your assignments including exams to get organized. Then block time within your schedule that is strictly for studying and reviewing pharmacology.
For example Monday and Tuesday, from 3-5 pm I will review new material and powerpoints before the lecture on Wednesday.
Keep in mind that the most important thing is to be intentional, stick to your plan, and do not procrastinate.
Organization is vital, but let’s discuss different study tips so you can not just pass, but ace the dreaded pharmacology course.
2. BREAK DOWN THE MEDICATIONS BY CLASS
Organize medications by classes such as beta-blockers, SSRIs, antidepressants, etc. You will be able to recognize that drugs in the same class tend to have very similar or even the same characteristics for:
- Mechanisms of action
- Nursing assessments
- Patient teachings
Example: beta-blockers end in –lol
While you might know a common medication like metoprolol, you might not recognize nebivolol. However, what you will recognize is the ending -lol, meaning nebivolol is a beta-blocker.
Knowing the class and endings will make those lists of medications a bit less intimidating.
3. GET CREATIVE (studying doesn’t have to be boring)
One of the best ways to study pharmacology is to create mnemonics, funny phrases, and stories. Putting these medications in a story format will help you better remember them come test time. Pharmacology made easy is an excellent book that is a great resource. Pixorize is another learning source that offers “clear, concise mnemonics that make pharm not only manageable- but easy.”
4. RECORD LECTURES IN CLASS
Before bringing a tape recorder or using your laptop – make sure to ask your professor for permission to record lectures in class. You can use your phone to do so, or you can purchase this one. You can play back your lectures when you’re at home, or while you’re driving to help you solidify the information.
5. PRACTICE NCLEX-STYLE QUESTIONS
NCLEX-style questions can be quite challenging and often intimidating. One way to become stronger and more confident is to practice a lot of questions using a dedicated NCLEX book.
Not only will it give you confidence in choosing the right answer when it’s test time, but it will also help you retain the material. The key is to review the rationales both for content and for clarification in terms of why the answer you chose is correct or incorrect.
If your school uses ATI then you can take dynamic quizzes and narrow them down to just pharmacology questions, that way you will also learn the rationales.
6. FORM STUDY GROUPS
If studying alone doesn’t work for you, then forming a study group is a great alternative. You can reserve a study room in the library and meet once a week to go over new material together. Ask each other questions, share resources and notes.
7. CHOOSE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Study in a quiet space, and make it your own! You can even add some plants and motivating quotes around your desk area. If you have family, roommates, or it’s a bit loud at home, then I’d recommend getting these noise-canceling headphones.
8. MAKE A CHART OF THE DRUGS
As you go, make a chart of the drugs in Microsoft Excel, which you can use as your study guide before semester exams and the dreaded final.
Organize the drugs by category, and highlight the important side effects and information your professor specifically pointed out in class. By adding to the document as the class progresses, it will prevent scrambling to remember hundreds of medications come exam time. You can also use the Davis Drug Guide as another trusted resource.
If you’d like another option then try downloading this free pharmacology medication organizer.
9. USE OUTSIDE SOURCES
In nursing school, you are expected to teach yourself quite a bit. What helped me most was using outside learning sources like YouTube! These two YouTube channels offer great pharmacology content in easy-to-understand formats.
Having another nurse break down and explain pharmacology terms and concepts to you can be extremely helpful, especially if you aren’t connecting the information in the lecture.
Using flashcards is one of the most effective ways to study pharmacology. You can purchase pre-made online/digital note cards including LevelUp RN, or Nurse in the Making.
An even better option is to make them yourself. This can be a daunting and time-consuming task, so don’t leave it to the last minute. For some, the act of writing the information helps them retain details more than reading the pre-made cards. You can choose how much information you want to add to each flashcard. Do you want them super in-depth or very simple and to the point? It’s up to you.
TIP: Put the medication name on one side and the rest of the information on the other. Make sure you say the medication name out loud as you write it down. If you’re unsure on how to pronounce it, google it or youtube it. Bring these cards with you wherever you go so that if you have some time you can use it wisely and review your cards.
11. REPETITION IS KEY
Pharmacology can be challenging because you are required to memorize and recall a LOT of material in a very short amount of time. One of the best ways to establish knowledge and memory is to repeat concepts over and over again.
Repetition is the key to memory. You can do this with flashcards, PowerPoint slides, or by using the teach-back method (which ensures that you understand what you’ve learned). Even just talking to yourself about the different medications can help.
Have a pet? Pretend you are precepting them and teach them about the medications. It can help you truly learn and understand the drugs versus just recalling what is on the flashcards or presentation.
You Got This
Regardless of how you might feel about pharmacology, we can all agree that it is one of the most important courses in nursing school. It’s important to have a solid study plan to pass the course and be a safe healthcare professional.
The key to being successful in learning pharmacology for nurses is to,
- Get organized
- Formulate a study plan
- Follow that plan
Use these study tips to simplify the learning process and pick which ones will work best for you. Do not leave pharmacology til the last minute, but realize that the best way to study it is to start early.
Check out our top nursing school study tips article for more nursing school advice!