How to Study Pharmacology in PA School

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Studying for your first pharmacology exam can be quite a daunting task. I think that pharmacology is like learning a whole new language. The words all sound funny and you have to learn so many things about each drug, including it's mechanism of action, side effects, concerns, contraindications, and doses. So at first, it all seemed very overwhelming and I didn't know where to begin. There are different ways to study for it, but today I wanted to share the way that's been tried and tested by myself and some dear friends of mine.

Organization: make your charts, your tables, flashcards, or any other form of study guide that floats your boat but organize the material in way that makes sense to you. One of my friends from class makes a study guide for each lecture (pictures included at the end of the post; shoutout to Jocelyn!) which helps me out tremendously. Just reading the PowerPoints wasn't working for me and seeing it in a table format makes learning the drugs so much easier.

Learn the classes of drugs first: start with the big picture and zoom in later. By that I mean, group the drugs by their classes, then add the MOAs, SE, CI, etc. For example, if you're learning about antibiotics, group them by whether they're beta lactams, tetracyclines, fluoroquinoloes, aminoglycosides, or macrolides. Then go in and add the sub-groups and the specific drugs (see picture below).

Suffixes are your friends: usually most (or at least a few) of the drugs in the same class will end with the same suffix. For example, drugs used to treat hyperlipidemia all end in -statin (atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, etc.)

MOA: sometimes you just have to memorize the mechanism of actions, but most of the time if you think about what you're giving the drug for and know the pathophysiology, it will make sense to you.

Doses and side effects (SE): We're not required to know all the doses for each drug but the major ones we need to know are emphasized. I have no tricks for that unfortunately. You just gotta memorize them. As far as the side effects, learn what the MAJOR ones for each drug. Anytime you prescribe any drug to a patient, chances are 9/10 times the side effects will include either nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or headache. So focus more on the unique SEs, like red man syndrome with Vancomycin.

Contraindications and concerns: just because we have a concern about using a certain drug with a certain patient population doesn't mean that we NEVER give it to them. It just means that we exhaust all options before we would consider giving them that drug. Contraindications, on the other hand, mean that you DON'T ever give them that drug.

Know your CYP inhibitors, inducers, and substrates: I don't know about other pharm professors, but ours likes to make sure we know about these because they're important in durg-drug interactions.

Come up with as many silly/funny ways to remember the details: my friend Rachel (who made an appearance here) is the mastermind behind coming up with creative ways to do this. Sure, the rest of us come up with stories to remember the drugs too, but her creative juices surpass all of ours put together. And remember, the funnier and the more inappropriate the story, the better your chances of remembering it. Trust me ;)

Study groups and repetition: as I always say, study ahead of time. Pharm is one class you can't cram for even if you try to. There's too many details and you're bound to forget them if you don't repeat your exposure to them. I also find it so helpful to study with my friends. We all have different ways of learning but learn so much from each other's thought processes, even if it's just one review sesh the night before the exam.

White boards are your best friends: write out the most important things about each drug and whatever else you need to know on whiteboards to learn, quiz, or organize your thoughts. All four of us in my study group do this and find it very helpful.

                                                                                                     (antibiotics grouped by classes)

                                                                                              (chart of drugs with all the details)

What are some ways that you study for your pharmacology class? Leave your suggestions or questions in the comments!

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