Why is pharmacology so difficult? Just type “Why is pharmacology” into your browser’s search bar and see a hundred hits pop up with variations of the question including the words: hard, difficult. For many first-year nursing students, the class that gives them the most trouble, sleepless nights spent studying and failed exams is the dreaded pharmacology.
So why is pharmacology so difficult? Well if you’ve ever picked up any drug guide, you know why. There are thousands of drugs and medications. Sure, when you start practicing as a nurse, you’ll be administering a fewer number of commonly-prescribed drugs – but in nursing school, you’re going to be tested on a lot more. On the NCLEX exam, you’ll have to know around 300 – 400.
It’s a lot to learn and memorize: names, actions, side effects, dosages, interactions, and nursing considerations. Pharmacology may be difficult, but a firm grasp of this subject is critical for nurses to safely and effectively administer medications to their patients. We’re going to talk just a little bit about pharmacology (things you already know) and then give you a couple of tips to help defang this monster.
What Is Pharmacology?
Pharmacology is the science and study of drugs and their effects on living organisms. Humans have been using plants and medicinal mixtures since before we even left the caves. Heck, even birds and animals use medicinal plants. Every drug has an effect on the human body and is used to do everything from lower blood pressure and relieve pain to regulate blood glucose and fight cancer.
For a nurse, a solid understanding of the effects of the drugs they are administering to their patients can mean the difference between a successful treatment or a potentially fatal reaction.
How Nurses Use Pharmacology
Administering medications is one of the most common responsibilities of a nurse. Throughout the day a nurse will give pills, shots, drops, IVs, injections, and more to a variety of patients with a variety of conditions and illnesses. To carry this out effectively, a nurse has to understand the pharmacology of what they’re administering. For example, the risk of giving a patient clarithromycin with amlodipine, which can cause hypotension and acute renal failure.
But there’s no way anyone can memorize all that information. It’s true, very few people have the memory power to absorb each and every bit of pharmacology information. Guess what? You don’t have to. We’re going to give you two tricks that’ll help you organize all that pharmacology information you have to learn in a way that makes it easier to commit to memory.
Pharmacology Memorization Tips
You’re not going to get around having to memorize a lot of pharmacology data – sorry. Yes, it’s a ton of information, but there are some tools that make it way easier.
We’ve got 3 studying techniques that’ll help supercharge your memory and help you learn fasters.
Using flashcards is the number one way most nursing students study pharmacology. In fact, many swear by them.
Flashcards are a proven way to learn, absorb, and memorize a large amount of information. They work because flashcards remove the information from any context clues, forcing your brain to use active recall.
Basically, your brain doesn’t get any hints and has to find the information on its own. This makes the connections the information forms in your brain stronger – you learn it easier, faster and it gets committed to long-term memory.
If you make your own flashcards, the act of writing them out will also help you memorize the information. Or you can go with one of the several great pharmacology flashcard decks you can buy online.
Here’s a great list of nursing pharmacology flashcards that’ll help you study smarter.
Mnemonics aren’t just great for learning the nursing process (ADPIE) – There are also lots of excellent ones for pharmacology. The reason mnemonics work is because they help you memorize chunks of information with patterns. These patterns give your brain an easier reference word to remember a chunk of data.
There are hundreds of nursing pharmacology mnemonics you can find online (especially on Pinterest) or you can make your own. Using rhyming phrases, raps, poems, and songs also help.
3. Drug Classes
Instead of trying to remember each and every drug – focus on the drug class and its effect on the body. For example, you know benzodiazepines are a CNS depressant. Their common side effects are sedation, dizziness, weakness, etc. They can be commonly identified by the suffix ending in -am (Diazepam, Alprazolam, etc.)
Get a good understanding of a drug class and the prefixes and suffixes that are common in the names and you won’t have to know every name. You’ll be able to make an educated guess about any drug you’re not familiar with by understanding the likely drug class it’s a member of.
Try these tips out. You’re guaranteed to find one that works for your learning style – or use all three. Want some more help? Here’s a quick list of the best pharmacology study guides and aids and here you’ll find some more simple hacks for remembering pharmacology.
Yes, pharmacology is a lot of information to learn – but it doesn’t have to be difficult. All it requires from you is a little bit of effort with some regular studying and studying smarter with tips like the ones above.