wait...what does meperidine do again?
March 30, 2009 8:16 PM   Subscribe

study skills filter: how should I memorize information in pharmacology?

Pharm is kicking my ass this year- despite expending a decent amount of effort, I'm still barely passing. Basically I have to associate a drug name with 5 or 6 characteristics (i.e. "contraindicated in pregnancy" or "can cause hepatotoxicity"). I've made flash cards, but I can only seem to associate the drug with ONE characteristic (almost like it's a vocabulary word with a definition). I've also tried to make up little sayings or rhymes riffing on the name of the drug, but these tend to be too elaborate to be very helpful. I'm a very visual learner (so anatomy was easy for me) but I can't think of a way to make this subject visual. Most previous questions were about memorizing word definitions, which isn't quite the same.

Is there another technique that I can try? Any advice generally on memorizing stuff? Any actual pharmacists care to share their secrets?
posted by genmonster to Education (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
OK, this may sound a little complicated but here goes. Its called the chain method.

First, you have to come up with a unique image to represent the drug and the characteristics. Just build these up as you go but you want to be able to think of a drug/characteristic and instantly know the image, and visa-versa. Like an icon it doesn't matter what the image is as long as it means the right thing to you.

Now, imagine the drug image and connect the image of the first characteristic by having them touching, impaling, or some such. The two images need to physically connect.

Next, have the second characteristic connect to the first, and so on. You don't have to spend a lot of time on the connections.

For recall, all you need is the first image of the drug and you can follow the chain of images to get all the characteristics.

Hope this helps.
posted by trinity8-director at 8:25 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mnemonics. Drug name and 5-6 characterstics, take the first letter or a combination of the first letters and either make a word or a sentence.

Example: Solar System planet name mnemonic: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.
posted by kirstk at 8:29 PM on March 30, 2009

I thought of more.

Also, with your flashcards, don't flash the drug name, flash the characteristics list. Or make a set of flashcards with 1 characteristic on one side and the drug(s) related to it on the other.

Also, weird sounding, but, Venn Diagrams. Pretty visual. Make Venn Diagrams for each drug.

Lastly, I don't know if this would work but you could take empty sketches of the body and for each drug somehow indicate the characteristics on the blank body outline? Color coded? Probably not workable but maybe?
posted by kirstk at 8:33 PM on March 30, 2009

My visual technique for pharmacology memorization has relied on images for each drug, similar to what trinity8-director said. With some drugs it's easy (for Cox-2 Inhibitors, I imagined Dr. Cox from Scrubs with all the relevant adverse effects, though I'm sure you could think of another cox image if necessary), for others it's a lot tougher to think of an initial image to help me remember which drug I'm thinking about. But the ones that I have come up with visual mnemonics like this for, have really stuck.

Another thing that helped me is to make general lists of the drugs and their basic function/class (like, "Propanolol - Beta Blocker") and stick them on the wall next to my medicine cabinet in the bathroom. I read them over several times a day as I'm brushing my teeth, washing my hands, etc. It's SO much easier to remember the contraindications, adverse effects, etc. when I feel super comfortable with the basic function of the drug, and this constant reminding really helps. Plus, I make the lists in bright colors so they're marginally more cheerful, which makes me hate the memorization a bit less.
posted by vytae at 8:35 PM on March 30, 2009

You might try SRS (spaced repetition software) to aid in memorization. It's a pretty efficient way to use flashcards and for long term retention. Popular with language learners, but could be used for pharmacology as well. I've used Anki in the past.
posted by maishuno at 8:53 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm also a visual learner, and when I was in school I liked to break it down with one bit of information per flash card. For example, the front of one card would say "Warfarin - Pregnancy" and the back would say "Contraindicated", but I put "Warfarin - Indication" on a different card. It also helped me to think about things in more than one way. For instance, I would think about the drug, and its properties, then I would make a list of, for example, all the hepatotoxic drugs and a list of all the drugs which aren't hepatotoxic. I also liked to use markers instead of writing everything in black ink, the bright colors gave me another way to visualize things later on ("I remember seeing this drug name in pink...and pink=hepatotoxic").

Something else I did was make up multiple choice quizzes on the material, and then quiz my friends, or just use them myself to reinforce the material.

Are you studying specific classes, or do you have a list? I know I have some plays on words and other tricks deep in my memory, but the only ones I can think of right now are for less common drugs. If you can narrow it down some, I'll see what I can come up with.
posted by little e at 9:25 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, and there are often clues in the drug names themselves.

For example, ends in -pril = ACE inhibitor
Ends in -olol = Beta blocker; carvedilol and labetalol are the exceptions, but that's how you remember that those two have alpha blocking activity as well
LOpressor lowers your blood pressure
Anything with "gluco" in the name will affect blood glucose
posted by little e at 9:35 PM on March 30, 2009

2nding trinity8-director's chain method. That's how I learned to memorize a sequence of 52 cards for pro gambling. The trick with the chains is that the more violent, grotesque or sexual, the better they stick in your memory. To learn cards, we had to give each card a name and associated image. One card sequence chain my instructor used as an example involved one of our team mates snorting cocaine out of a cat's anus. I certainly haven't forgotten it. I imagine coming up with images for pharmaceuticals will be somewhat easier.
posted by abirae at 9:57 PM on March 30, 2009

Actually, you don't want mnemonics. With memory, there's something called proactive interference, which is when something you've learned previously interferes with your recall of something learned more recently. Mnemonics work fine and dandy for the first few mnemonics you make up, but past a certain point they all become jumbled in your head and are no longer useful. The only way to learn something and be able to remember it for the long haul is to space out your studying over long periods of time. Studies have proven that 10 hours of studying spaced over 5 days is much, much more effective than 10 hours all at once.
posted by bluloo at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2009

propRanolol! Please don't let my typo mess up anyone's memory.
posted by vytae at 7:02 AM on March 31, 2009

Most places pair pharmacology with something clinical. It's hard to remember that pramiprexole is used for (among other things) cluster headaches and rarely causes hallucinations, but easy to remember Mr. Johnson who had cluster headaches which interfered with his job as a welder and started hearing strange whispers after he started pramiprexole.

Working up cases cause you to form a large, in depth linked up memory including the drug. Because they involve people and stories (things which we naturally remember really well compared to lists), they stick to you. You can ask some internists about patients they saw years ago.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound complicated also, but it's the method used by every world memory champion and dates back thousands of years. I competed in the USA Memory Championship this year and saw dozens of people using it!

It's generically called the Method of Loci, or "Roman Room" method, and it doesn't suffer from the interference problems that bluloo describes above. Basically, you create a visual location or journey for each of the drugs that you want to remember, and visualize the characteristics at steps along that journey. Each drug has a separate journey, so they don't interfere with each other, and you can imagine "teleportation stations" between locations if certain drugs interact in an important way. You can also group journeys together for drugs that are related - for example, use your house for one family of drugs, with each drug designated to a separate room. For a different family, use a different house, or separate locations at your neighborhood park.

Example: (I know nothing about pharmacology so I'm going to pull random facts from Wiki).
I will use a generic house as the location, but perhaps Meperidine calls to mind a different location for you, like the MuPpet show set or a PEaR orchard. The key is to use the strongest image you can associate with the drug name.

Journey Location: House
First Stop: Front foyer
First Characteristic: Analgesic effects
I imagine a person in great pain standing in the foyer, most likely screaming, when suddenly they pop a pill in their mouth and relax. Or maybe I imagine a person taking pills while hitting their hand with a hammer and feeling nothing. You could work in the other administration routes by imagining other people with IVs and IM shots standing around doing similar activities. The idea is to make the image totally ridiculous/funny/gross/exaggerated/whatever will make it stand out. Use all your senses - visual images, people talking/yelling, etc.

Second Stop: Kitchen (or whatever comes next in your own house)
Second Characteristic: Contraindicated for liver and kidney disease
Contraindication should probably have its own generic image since it will come up a lot. I'm going to imagine a traffic cop that's keeping me out of a certain area. In this case, the cop is standing in the KITCHEN in front of a feast of LIVER and KIDNEYS that he's keeping me away from. He's holding up his hands and yelling "Move along!" or "Stop!" and eyeing up the liver and kidney feast for his own consumption. Maybe in your case you imagine a huge pile of kidney beans and a livery instead.

Third stop: Living room
Third Characteristic: Potential for addiction
Easy, I imagine a drug running around the living room, searching desperately through the cabinets for his next hit. If a drug is very strongly addictive, he's going insane and the image is greatly exaggerated.

Journeys can be as small or as big as you want. You could use all of DC for a certain family of drugs, or imagine that you are miniature and use the components of a ballpoint pen as a journey for PENicillin. The number of journeys is infinite and each journey can be broken down into smaller and smaller steps if you need to add extra details. A kitchen could be its own entire journey, with the sink as one stop, the cabinet as another, refrigerator as another, etc. Simonides was on to something!
posted by RobotNinja at 8:40 AM on April 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, honestly, memorizing drug facts without that clinical context is a miserable task, and something I did just well enough to get through the exams and then promptly forgot the boring details. It took working in a pharmacy to actually know the information in a meaningful way.
posted by little e at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2009

« Older How do I become a teacher?   |   Should I lie? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.