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10 tips for learning pharmacology

We asked readers for advice on learning and studying pharmacology and received dozens of fantastic responses

Ambulances Drug Shortage

Learning pharmacology can be difficult. Experienced paramedics share tips to make it easier.

Don Ryan /AP

By EMS1 Staff

Learning and studying pharmacology – drugs, indications, mechanisms of action, contraindications and more – is one of the most difficult aspects of paramedic training.

On Facebook we asked for your top tips for paramedics to learn pharmacology and received dozens of fantastic responses. Here are 10 of the best tips for learning pharmacology.

Post by EMS1.

1. Do the work!

“There is no secret. Sit down and repeat the drug cards to yourself. Do it all day, every day. In the bathroom, at work, while eating. Memorization isn’t something that’s easy.” — Richie Zolskiy

2. Start with the mechanism of action

“Start with the body’s responses and learn the drugs that do them. i.e. antihypertensives, diabetic, increase heart rate, slow heart rate. Then once the students understand how the body is affected, slowly move to the classes and categories.” — George Surber

“Learn what the meds are used for associate them with the things you’re using them to treat. Works well as a base to build on.” — Sam Edwards

“Break drugs down by indication and then by class. When I started at my job we carried a lot of meds that weren’t covered in medic school so I broke them down by what they were used for, then by class. Meds in the same class tend to have the same indications, contraindications, etc. Learn them broadly, you can always refer to your CPGs for specifics but you want to have an idea of what to use first.” — Jonathan Farrow

3. Flashcards, notecards, and dry erase boards

“Flashcards, flashcards, and more flashcards. Name on one side and information on the other. You get repetition and memorization from writing them, and recall from studying from them.” — Scott Kier

“Use note cards and put your drugs in their classes, take the drug out of the drug box and look at it as you look at your notecards.” — Melissa Stuive

“Flashcards and bring them EVERYWHERE with you! Worked for me.” — Crystal Brown

“Use a dry-erase board and keep writing them out until you have them memorized.” — Daniel McCuan

“We took index cards and wrote one card for every drug. Indications, contraindications, etc. It was an hour and a half ride to school 3 nights a week. We used them like flashcards.” — Jon Morgan

4. Understand the big picture

“Learn physiology inside and out first. Then learn the drug classes and their effects. Then memorize the individual drugs used in your local protocols.” — Stephen Husak

“Learn drug actions as you’re learning the anatomically corresponding system (respiratory drugs/cardiovascular etc.). Stressing purpose of use links it together. Heart problems? What fixes those?” — Kerri Gross

5. Create study aids

“I made a chart in alphabetical order. During my ride time I would read it over and over. The chart had the drug name, the generic names, the dosages, the indications, the contraindications, as well as the mechanism of action and the drug type and diseases or conditions it is given for.” — Lea Dingman

6. 30-second drug guide lookup

“Take the 30 seconds to look it up and after some time you won’t need the protocol book as much. If you still are not sure, CALL SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP YOU!!! We need to stop this macho know all be all medic attitude and teach students that it’s okay to get a second opinion or quickly the find the answer to something if you are not sure. If you don’t maximize the resources that are made available to you and you fail just because you are scared to ask for help then you truly did let yourself and your patient down. Study, memorize, make reference, but if you’re not sure ask!” — Anthony Maestas

7. Touch the meds

“Go through a med box. Pick up each individual drug, look at it and review indications, contraindications, how to administer and side effects. Kind of a hands-on approach, because just reading and memorizing doesn’t work.” — Bob Henderseon

8. Constant quizzing

“Everyone learns differently. Ask every medic that you ride with to constantly quiz you and actually look at the medications.” — Dan Madigan

9. Use word association

“Get Creative with your drugs and how you remember them. Quick example:

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): Adult Dose

Ben is a construction worker, Ben Drills 25-50mg in 4-6 hours.”

— Marco Williams

10. Drug guidebooks and apps

“Buy and read your latest edition pharmocopeia, keep it up to date, know it back to front, keep it on you and read it during downtime. Don’t just regurgitate information from it either, learn a page or two in depth a day.” — Brady Lloyd

“Keep a copy of the drug reference book in the cubby hole at the head of the patient care area for quick access.” — Glenn Gerber

“I’ve always trusted the pocket reference guides called Informed Guides, and now I have the app for iPhone.” — John Murphy, Jr.

Final thought: Pharmacology is important! In addition to the tips several readers commented on the importance of understanding pharmacology.

“Remember that you have no business giving a drug if you can’t explain to a five-year-old how it works and why you give it.” — Matt Michalowski

This article, originally posted March 16, 2015, has been updated.