Pharmacology is hands down one of the toughest classes you will take in nursing school. In this episode I'm sharing my personal study system for how to minimize your time studying and maximize the results. One of the main components of this system is the Fundamental Five Flashcards. There are five pieces of information that you need to know for each major drug classification. In this episode, I tell you the most efficient place to find that information and how to lay it all out, so you can ace your next pharmacology test!
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The 5 Flashcards You Need to Ace Pharmacology
Hello everyone! Welcome back to the Nursing School Week by Week Podcast. Today we are talking about how to study pharmacology. I don’t know about you, but pharmacology was the class I was most nervous about before starting nursing school. My older brother went through nursing school a couple of years before I started, and the summer leading up to my start date, I asked him what would be most helpful to start studying now, ahead of time. He said pharmacology. There are just so many drugs you have to learn, and in so little time! Some of you may not have a designated pharmacology class, but will have it sprinkled throughout the whole program. The rest of you will have to learn all the drugs in just one semester!
So, you obviously need an efficient way to do this. And, you don’t want to go in blind, because we all know that failure to plan is planning to fail.
Now, I have an episode that walks you through my study system for most of nursing school. That episode is from season 2, episode 6 and if you haven’t listened to that one, you definitely should. But, pharmacology is its own beast, and you’re gonna need some special strategies to do well. I got an A in my pharm class, so let me walk you through my system step-by-step, and you can take what you like and leave the rest.
Now, there are so many individual medications that could be given by a nurse. Way too many for any one person to memorize. But, lucky for you, we are not even going to try to learn them all and no one expects you to. The trick is to learn the drug classifications that these meds fall under. There are only about 15 classes that you need to know to do well on the NCLEX. The classification is like the umbrella that all those meds fall under and luckily, all the meds within a class have similarities, and we can use that to our advantage.
So, this seems a little more do-able, right? Memorize 15 classes instead of hundreds of drugs? So, as you prepare for your first pharmacology lecture, you’re going to look at the power point and figure out which classes they are wanting you to know. This will be pretty obvious, like Beta Blockers. Then for each classification, you will make flashcards using either index cards, or a flashcard app. My personal favorite is the Anki app because it utilizes spaced repetition to automatically make you review things right before you would otherwise forget them.
So, what are you going to put on the flashcards? First of all, you do not want to make just one flashcard for each classification. Studies have shown that we retain information better by having more flashcards, with fewer information on each. For example, if you have 10 things you need to memorize for the classification of beta blockers, you are not going to make one flashcard that says, “Beta Blockers” on one side and then have 10 things listed on the other side. Why not? Because when you do this, you will usually memorize the first one or two things really well, but the further down the list you get, the fuzzier it becomes in your brain and the more likely you are to just skip to the next flashcard because your mind rationalizes and says, “well, I know most of the things on the card, so that’s good enough.” Instead, make 5 flashcards, with fewer information on each.
So, the 5 flashcards you want to want to make for each drug classification are:
#1 The suffix or prefix
#2 The mechanism of action
#3 The indications, or why you would give this med.
#4 The contraindications, or when you would not give this med.
#5 Any other special nursing considerations.
That’s it! Just 5 things you need to know for each of the main classifications of drugs that your teacher emphasizes. The fundamental five, as I like to call it.
So, where do you find this information to go on your flashcards? You have 3 choices. The last one is my favorite and I’ll tell you why in a sec. Your first choice is extracting the information from your Davis Drug Guide. Some of you may not have taken the time yet to look at how this book is set up. If you look at the front section of the book, there is a section of about 60 pages that have a red border. This section covers all the main classifications. There is a lot of good information in this section and it's definitely worth a read. The second option is getting the information for your flashcards from your teacher’s powerpoint presentation. This might be a good idea if you feel like this teacher often makes questions based directly off what’s in the powerpoint, or if they emphasize nursing considerations that aren’t often seen in other places. The 3rd option, and my favorite is to get the information straight from the Picmonic app. Easy-peasy. Picmonic shows you a picture and a memorable story for each of the main classifications and it also gives you those main 5 things you need for your pharmacology flashcards in a super easy to read format. For example, if you go to the Picmonic website or the app and type in beta blockers, it will show you a cute cartoon picture with a betta fish and other things in the picture that help you remember all the things you need to know for that classification. It also lists the fundamental five, the suffix, the mechanism of action, the indications, the contraindication, and the 3 main nursing considerations. So, you can make your flashcards right from this list. So easy. If you don’t have Picmonic already, I’ll have a link in the show notes that’ll save you 20%.
So, when you are reviewing your teacher’s powerpoint before class, and you come to a drug classification, you look it up on the Picmonic app, add that picmonic to your picmonic playlist for the next exam, watch the educational video, and then the story video. Then use the Picmonic app to make your 5 flashcards in the Anki app of the fundamental five. Then take the 10 or 11 question quiz in the Picmonic app, and you’re done with that drug classification. Every day, for review, you will go through your Anki flashcards for the day, and take the picmonic quiz under the playlist that you’ve been making for all the topics that will be on your next exam. If this sounds confusing at all, or you’re a little fuzzy on the steps, I recommend listening to the episode I made on my “Insanely Effective Study System.” I go into more detail in that episode on both the picmonic and Anki apps and how to use them together.
You obviously don’t have to use this plan exactly. It’s what worked for me, but everyone is different. But definitely focus on learning the classifications, and not so much the specific drugs. Maybe one or two examples that your teacher mentions, but remember, the NCLEX is going to test you on the generic names for drugs, not the brand names, so make sure you learn the generic names.
So, let’s go through the 5 flashcards you’ll need for each drug classification again, with examples. The first will have the suffix or prefix that is common to many of the drugs in this class. For example, for beta blockers, you would have something like, “Beta Blocker suffix” on one side of the card and on the other side you would write, “olol”. O L O L because the beta blockers all end in “olol”. There are about 15 types of beta blockers, but luckily, they all end in olol, so you just memorize that, and then when you see a drug that ends in olol on your pharmacology exam or on the NCLEX, you’ll know they are talking about a beta blocker. No need to memorize 15 different drug names.
The next flashcard will have the mechanism of action on it. And knowing this will save your butt come test time because you can often figure out a test answer just from knowing how the drug works. For example, for beta blockers, we know the mechanism of action is that it blocks the effect of epinephrine which causes the heart rate to slow down and the heart to contract less forcefully. Knowing this, we would recognize that before we give a beta blocker, we should probably take the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate to make sure they are not already low, since this med is going to slow the heart rate even more and decrease the blood pressure. So knowing the mechanism of action can really help you come test-time. Plus, you will sound super impressive when you explain to your patients and their family members how the drug works, when they say, “What’s metoprolol?” And you’ll think, “Oh, it ends in olol, I know this. Well, let me tell you…”
The 3rd flashcard is for indications, or why you would use this med. For beta blockers, the indications would be: Hypertension and Heart failure.
The 4th flashcard is for contraindications, or when you would not give this med. For beta blockers, the contraindication would be asthma and heart block. So if a patient has a history of asthma or a heart block, we would not give them a beta blocker.
The last flashcard you need to make for each drug classification is nursing considerations. For beta blockers, the nursing considerations are to take the blood pressure and heart rate before we give it to make sure they’re not too low; don’t stop giving it abruptly; and that beta blockers can mask the signs of hypoglycemia, so if the patient is diabetic, make sure you are getting their blood sugar levels periodically.
And once again, you can just get this information right from the Picmonic app if you don’t want to search through the Davis Drug Guide for it.
And that’s it! Those are the 5 flashcards that you need for each major classification that your teacher emphasizes. Review those everyday and take the 10 question Picmonic quiz everyday leading up to your exam, and you will be ready to ace pharmacology!
Alright y'all, please let me know if this helped you guys. You can leave a review, cause I love reading them. If you have any questions, you can ask on the website or on instagram, and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. I wish you the best of luck on any upcoming exams, and I’ll talk to you soon!