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Pharmacology - What is the hardest part to get a grasp on before starting?


I am starting pharm this Fall, and I was wondering if any of you had any troubles on a particular subject....or is there any thing that I should really go over before the class starts that was maybe tough to comprehend? ( FYI I have already seen the forum with the pharm flash cards) thanks!

Song in my Heart (how do you make those music note signs???) has some great pharm flash cards. I'd wait until class starts to see where you need to focus. For me, it was all the diabetic meds, but for some it's cardiac, some pulmonary.

One of the hardest parts for me was keeping all of the side effects with the right drugs. Luckily, there are a lot of mnemonics that will help you. Learn to categorize by names because many of them end in certain letters.. like the 'prils' and the 'azoles'. Many have the same general side effects, but you'll have one that does something different, and another something else. I'm sure you already know there will be a lot of memorization.


Has 11 years experience.

I think what trips up a lot of students are the different categories medications can fall under. Medications can be classified according to their chemical makeup (ex. sulfonamide antibiotics), their intended action (ex. antihypertensives) or any combination thereof. I have overheard many new students have discussions/semi-arguments about what class a drug is under. One person could say lovastatin is a HMG CoA reductase inhibitor, another argues it is a statin and yet another says, no, it is a cholesterol-lowering med. It is all of the above!

vintagemother, ADN, CNA, LVN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Psych, Geri, LTC, Tele.

I'm in agreement with cuddleswithpuddles said about it being confusing because 1 med can be in multiple categories/drug classes.

However, I think that is why it's important to understand pathology of the disease and normal physiology of the body because then you will understand why a drug fits into multiple classes.

In school and in work, it is most common for me to see other nurses classify a drug by its practical use.

But in my mind, I always try to learn a drug based on its mechanism of action.

But, if you understand how a class of drug works in the body, you can easily see how it's used to treat a variety of different problems.

la_chica_suerte85, BSN, RN

Specializes in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

Like everyone is saying, you have to be flexible in your understanding of drugs and how they might fit into multiple categories. Just because we give a statin to lower cholesterol, that doesn't mean it only impacts the liver and nothing else. It can also cause rhabdomyolisis so obviously it has some effect (although an adverse one) on the musculoskeletal system. Another way to look at it is how glaucoma medication is now being used to also help people grow thicker eye lashes (with one AE being an excessive decrease in interopthalmic pressure). Meds can have multiple uses due to their effects. Being that is the case, this often means that knowing adverse effects is part of your nursing management (i.e. pt teaching to report AEs to the HCP) and these effects will sometimes extend to other body systems.

Finally, don't expect that you must know EVERYTHING. You will begin to see how often certain drugs are given on a unit that becomes common to that unit. For instance, the last one I was in practically everyone was on Protonix, Lasix, and some kind of -lol beta blocker (like mentioned above, learn your generic suffixes - it helps so much!!). It was med surg and a lot of people were there for some kind of exacerbation of something r/t CV system. However, I was with one nurse and we had a pt being given a very unusual med for hyperthyroidism that I didn't recall being taught (propylthiouracil; really, I didn't remember any meds for hyperthyroidism since we were taught mostly about radiation and excision). The nurse had never seen it before either but the unit charts had access to a digital Lippincott drug reference and she looked it up right then and there prior to giving it to the pt. That's not a bad thing and it was a great thing the nurse did the right thing and familiarized herself with the med before administration. Sometimes you'll find nurses not doing that and that's a bad thing. Utilize your resources! Don't feel bad if you don't know something. You'll never know E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

Good luck! :)

Just an anecdote: my mother has glaucoma and was diagnosed very young....she mentioned to me one day that she thought she was crazy because she felt her lashes were growing. Apparently the doc hasn't mentioned this effect and the woman was trimming her eyelashes because it annoyed her that they were so long. I have an eye exam yearly, and while I pray not to develop glaucoma, I could sure use some longer eyelashes :)

vintagemother, ADN, CNA, LVN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Psych, Geri, LTC, Tele.

Amy...my dad told me the glaucoma drops made his eye lashes long, too!

classicdame, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Hospital Education Coordinator.

drug effects that you can detect objectively are either affecting the autonomic or sympathetic system. Learn symptoms of one of those, and then classify drugs as in that group or not in that group.


Specializes in Outpatient Psychiatry.

You won't remember everything you study for once you've finished the course. Most people do well to retain 20%. That's ok too. You're not going to hurt anyone, lol. Just try to learn the drug classes, and in class and clinical you'll see what drugs are used the most. Know what the classes do, and you've generally got a grasp of the mechanism of action and side effect profile. Learn for the course, remember what you can, but know most of it will come with time. You can't really force 200 or more drugs into your brain in a semester.

StacyAtheNurse, BSN, MSN

Specializes in OR SCRUBULATOR, Nurse Practitioner Student. Has 7 years experience.

hardest thing for me was learning to say the words. My mind is great at recognition but I have to able to say it to recall it. Find out how the drugs are pronounced, and you've won one battle in the war. This is especially useful if english is not your first language and when you get to the cancer and cardiac drugs.

anh06005, MSN, APRN, NP

Specializes in Cardiac, Home Health, Primary Care. Has 6 years experience.

One thing I would add is to not get caught up in memorizing every side effect of every medication. Use logic!

Meds that lower blood pressure COULD wind up lowering it too much. Potential side effects = dizziness, hypotension.

Benzos help to calm the nerves = drowsiness

Antibiotics can mess with the normal GI flora = GI upset and side effects

It takes time and experience to feel comfortable with all of the medicines. Usually once you become more familiar with them you can logic things out more rather than memorizing.

Also there are some medicines classes that are just plain weird. Alpha blockers for instance. Used for blood pressure and BPH.