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6 pharmacology study tips for paramedic students

How to learn and understand the medications paramedics administer

Ambulances Drug Shortage

As you check each drug, think about its indications, contraindications, dosing, delivery route(s), and side effects.

Don Ryan/AP

When I had a paramedic student riding with me, the first thing I always asked them to do is check the inventory in the drug box. These are the tips I gave students to improve and increase their pharmacology knowledge.

1. Know the drugs

As you check each drug, pause and think about its indications, contraindications, dosing, delivery route(s), and side effects.

2. Use a drug guide or app often

For at least one drug per shift, look up the drug in a drug guide (this is my favorite drug guide reference). Study the drug’s mechanism of action.

3. Create your own flashcards

Create a set of drug flashcards that goes deeper than simply listing the details of the drug you find in a drug reference book or app. Instead write flashcards that are about patient problems on one side of the card and on the other side list all the treatments, including drugs, for the problem.

4. Use mnemonics ... only if they help

Only use mnemonics (memory aids) if they work for you. Sometimes remembering long mnemonics is more complex than just remembering the information. Do what works for you, not what everyone else is doing or what other people suggest you should do.

5. Keep learning about drugs

Read one my favorite column, Drug Whys by Mike McEvoy. In each column, Mike thoroughly reviews a drug. In my opinion, reading every Drug Whys column should be required for any paramedic student.

6. Ask successful paramedics for ideas

We asked EMS1 readers for their top tips for paramedics to learn pharmacology and received dozens of fantastic responses. Here are 10 of the best tips for learning pharmacology.

This article, originally posted December 28, 2009, has been updated.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.