Introduction

Pharmacology – yes, it’s that time.

Students of pharmacy, nursing and medicine know exactly what I mean.

Pharmacology is the demon subject; the medicinal grim reaper who slashes your grades when you thought you’d safely “made it” across the line. Just when you thought you’d cracked the subject, your confidence is knocked aback by a dismal exam performance.

All is not lost though.

If you’re one of those students wondering how to study pharmacology; how to maximize both your study time and your grades – you’ve come to the right place. Today, we provide you with the ultimate student guide on studying pharmacology the right way.

No more poor grades. No more excuses. No more stress.

Let’s get started.

Top Tips for Studying Pharmacology

Starting out in pharmacology is tough.

On the face of it, there appears to be no structure. Instead, students are blasted with an unforgiving, interminable blizzard of detail.

Hundreds of drugs, thousands of side effects, millions of drug interactions!

Where does the madness end?

Knowing how to study pharmacology effectively is about building structure into your study. It’s about knowing what to learn and what to leave out. If you don’t apply this fundamental strategy, you waste time learning information that you don’t need to know.

Take antibacterial drugs, for example. There are well over eighteen classes – and many more lone drugs which aren’t “classified” in any appreciable way. Taking a “drug-by-drug” approach doesn’t work. You don’t need to learn side effects that are non-specific, such as nausea and vomiting, because those side effects are applicable to almost every drug! Take non-specific side effects as a given. Always begin by learning exceptions or side effects specific to a drug-drug class.

By being specific in what you learn, you cut out unnecessary and irrelevant detail.

Rather than learning pharmacology on a drug-by-drug basis, learn the subject on a class-by-class basis. Learning by class means you only need to learn one mechanism, one set of indications, one set of side effects and one set of drug interactions.

By losing sight of the bigger picture, you serve to:

  • Bog yourself down in hazardous levels of detail
  • Become confused
  • And, as a result, lose confidence in your ability to learn the topic at hand

Always consider drug prefixes and suffixes too – let’s consider beta-blockers:

Beta-blockers Cardioselective agents
Beta-blockers Cardioselective agents
Examples Bisoprolol, metoprolol, atenolol
Common suffix -lol
Indications Cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack prophylaxis
Mechanism Block beta-1 receptors in cardiac muscle
Side effects Dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, trouble sleeping, numbness in hands and feet etc.
Cautions May cause/worsen bronchospasm in asthmatic patients
Overdose Glucagon antidote

We’ve tabulated many of the primary facts about cardioselective beta blockers. Of course, not all information has been included. That’s because students of pharmacology must learn to “infer” detail from a drug class – a form of critical thinking that will aid your exam performance.

For example:

  • Hypotension and bradycardia are potential side effects of beta-blockers. We shouldn’t need to list these effects because, given the mechanism of action, we can expect beta-blockers to have these types of effect.
  • Similarly, if a patient is co-prescribed an additional medicine that slows heart rate / heart rhythm – we can safely conclude that the risk of hypotension and bradycardia increases.

Again, try to avoid learning immeasurable levels of detail en masse.

Learn to condense your study into more manageable and inferable methods. Not only does this strategy reduce study time but it also enhances your critical thinking skills during MCQ and long-answer exams.

Being able to work out answers, from limited detail, is a skill that every healthcare professional should possess. It takes time, but it’s a skill worth developing.

Along with this strategy there are various other, no less significant ways, to improve how to study pharmacology. These include:

  • The need to find time to study. Set aside a realistic time to study one topic. Do not study two or three topics during one session. Learning one topic in detail is more valuable than vaguely learning three topics. Study for 50-minutes at any one time.
  • Apply the right study techniques. It’s not enough to read your textbook. Taking the time to create interesting study aids – be it flashcards, questions, pharmacology mnemonics or revision notes – makes learning pharmacology easy.
  • Be imaginative. The more bizarre the revision method, the more memorable the fact. For example – “Furry Fox for Tea or Prozac” helps to recall second-generation cephalosporins: Cefuroxime, Cefoxitin, Cefaclor, Cefotetan, Cefproz
  • Ask your professor. Your professor has the knowledge and the expertise to help you with any question you may have. Don’t be afraid to contact your professor to get ahead in your study.
  • Never stop learning. During your professional study, you will come across medicines you’ve not heard of. Instead of ignoring these drugs, take a few seconds to jot down the name. Later, you can research the drug and commit it to memory.
  • Register with PharmaFactz. We’ve basically done the work for you. Our member’s zone has hundreds of pharmacology quiz questions, mnemonics, case studies, tutorials, guides, drug summaries, fact generators, flashcards and everything else you need to master your understanding of medicines.

Knowing how to study pharmacology is not enough if you don’t appreciate its value.

Stay Motivated

Studying pharmacology is important!

As a healthcare professional – whether you study pharmacy, medicine or nursing – you need to have a comprehensive understanding of how drugs work. As we learned above, the subject of pharmacology underpins important daily decisions you make.

Knowing how to infer important clinical detail is important, too.

The more pharmacology you know, the greater your powers of inference become. You are then able to link together the various topics in pharmacology – linking a drug class with a system, with a specific side effect, with a specific interaction.

Your web of knowledge broadens more and more and more.

If you seek to become a competent, respected healthcare professional, you need to motivate yourself to study pharmacology. By appreciating pharmacology as a subject worth studying, it transforms the value of your study time. Effective study strategies are only effective if you want to learn the subject. Learning how to study pharmacology effectively is often down to how much the student is willing to learn the subject.

By staying motivated – your learning gets much, much easier!