Pharmacology is one of the most memory-crunching and challenging courses for nurses. Although students should focus on understanding the cause-effect relationships in pharmacology, most of the time they cannot avoid memorization. To get a decent score in pharmacology, a nursing student is expected to memorize hundreds of drug names, their indication, mechanism of action, their numerous adverse effects, and possible drug-drug interactions. It can create a great toll on memory because all the contents must be memorized in the speed of light. As the medical science advances, new drugs are added in the repertoire of nurses.
Over my years of teaching pharmacology, I have observed that most of the nursing, pharmacy, or medical students are frustrated by the large bulk of information they have to cram to pass the exams. Some of the students turn to mnemonic devices to memorize pharmacology and boost their performance in school. Mnemonics (sounds like nem-on-ics) or memory aids are words (acronyms), images, or devices that help to memorize. The question is whether mnemonics are actually helpful for nursing students.
Pros and cons of mnemonics
Mnemonics are especially helpful tools in student's inventory where he/she has to learn about hundreds of drugs in a short period of time. Research showed that pharmacy students who used mnemonic devices will see a significant increase in their immediate and delayed recall, higher-order thinking, and overall academic performance (Samuel et al., 2017). If used properly, mnemonics should reduce test preparation time.
However, there are some limitations of mnemonics devices. First, mnemonics are like keys to a lock. If you lose the key, the lock cannot be opened. In other words, if you cannot remember the mnemonic, the whole exercise is fruitless. Secondly, with the advance of medical science and new drug approvals, old mnemonics may become outdated.
How to get the most out of mnemonics?
We need to adopt some strategies to get the full benefits of mnemonics and overcome its limitations. We should make the mnemonics more memorable so that they are not easy to forget. Moreover, a nursing student should develop mnemonics based on current information. Developing a new mnemonic device is fairly easy. Here are some tips on making a new one:
1. To make a simple mnemonic, make acronyms that are 'easy to remember'.
Anti-hypertensive medications can be shortened for ABCD, where ABCD stands for:
A - Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors, Angiotensin II antagonists, Alpha agonists
B - Beta-blockers
C - Calcium channel blockers
D - Diuretics
2. Select a specific topic such as side effects or drug interactions of a particular drug to make your mnemonics.
Example: side effects of Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are also captured in TCAs-
C-Cardiac (arrhythmia, MI, stroke)
A-Anticholinergic (tachycardia, urinary retention, etc)
Mnemonic for drugs causing constipation is OLIVeA:
O - Opioids (e.g. morphine, codeine)
L - aLuminium hydroxide antacids
I - Iron supplements
Ve - Verapamil (antihypertensive drug)
A - Anticholinergics (e.g. atropine)
3. Add some visuals with the mnemonic you have made.
Example: Beta 1 selective blockers, "BEAM ONE up" reminds us of Star Trek:
B - Beta blockers:
ONE - Beta one selective
Taken together, pharmacology mnemonics are still a useful tool in nursing school, if used properly.
You can watch videos to become familiar with terms. Here are a few...
Want more? Visit https://allnurses.com/videos/students/
Lois James Samuel, Yogeeta Sushant Walke, Meural Assumption D'Mello, Laveena Vassant Bandodkar.
Picmonic and mnemonic strategies: valuable teaching-learning aids to enhance learning and memory in the subject of pharmacology.
International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research 2017;4(8):1680-1682.