Pharmacology and the Final Exam

Posted on 12.11.2014

As I review and offer final exam feedback to students on an almost daily basis, it’s clear to see that the pharmacology questions are ones where most students really struggle. There is a lot of information in the pharmacology module, and you won’t have everything memorized the first time through it. In this module, you will be learning information you’ll need to continue to study throughout the course, up until the very day you take the final exam.

We recommend making flashcards, with the generic name on one side and the brand name on the other side, and working on 20 or so drug names every week. Review them for 20-30 minutes each day, and you will be able to remember most of them by the end of the week. Then move on to 20 more. It’s good to go back for 5 minutes each day and review the previous 20. Continue studying this way until you build up your memory.

However, it’s not enough to simply memorize the generic drug and its accompanying brand name. One must also be familiar with the category/class of the drug, what it’s used to treat, and if there are any special instructions for when or how to take it or if the drug reacts with food or other drugs.

For example, most of us know that Fosamax (alendronate) and Boniva (ibandronate) are used to treat osteoporosis, but they are known as bisphosphates and have specific dosing instructions:  the patient must take the medication before the first meal of the day, with six to eight ounces of water to prevent esophageal burning, and should remain upright for 30 minutes after taking the drug!  Who knew?  Here are a few more examples of how to study drugs more specifically:

• Generic name: amlodipine
• Used to treat hypertension by preventing calcium from entering cells of the heart and blood vessel walls, resulting in lower blood pressure
• Class of drug: calcium channel blockers
• Special instructions: they interact with grapefruit or grapefruit juice, preventing the liver from being able to eliminate them from your body

• Generic name: warfarin
• Used to prevent the formation of blood clots
• Class of drug: anticoagulant/blood thinners
• Special instructions: do not take with aspirin as it increases the risk of bleeding

• Generic name: amoxicillin
• Used to treat a variety of infections
• Class of drug: antibiotic
• Special instructions: contraceptives can be less effective while taking an antibiotic

Not every medication will have this much extra information with it. Sometimes it will be as simple as knowing that Prevacid (lansoprazole) is a PPI while Zantac (ranitidine) is an H2 blocker, that Cipro (ciprofloxacin) is the drug of choice in the treatment of anthrax while vancomycin is considered a “drug of last resort,” and that Accutane (isotretinoin) users are enrolled in the iPLEDGE program.

Hopefully these examples give you a better idea of how to study medications. As you go through the module, keep an eye open for this type of special information and jot it down on the flashcard. You’ll then be prepared for any pharmacology question the final exam throws your way!