How To Pass Pharmacology (Part 2)

samfA while ago I shared how flashcards saved my (as yet metaphorical) career. The problem with flashcards – as with any rote-memorisation trick – is the “I studied, I wrote, I passed, I forgot” phenomenon. Because frankly, except for the most common drugs, I really have forgotten most of what I learned two months ago.

Pharmacology is difficult for most medical students, and neglected by many. But I know I would hate to go to a doctor who does not know what to prescribe (or worse, prescribes the wrong thing). I don’t want to be that doctor. So it is important to remember it beyond the exam. And for that, we need to look at it in the long haul (something I did not do, and wish I did). Just like we would not try to learn mathematics from scratch in a few months, we cannot learn pharmacology from scratch in four weeks.

So here’s what you do: 

Purchase your country’s latest medicines formulary. We use the SAMF. They get updated every few years, but you can use one during med school and purchase a new one when you graduate. If you are a first year and think this does not apply to you: you are wrong! Go buy that formulary. (Note: I am not being paid for this post.)

This requires a little more work than flash cards because it is extra, long-term effort. Every time you hear of a drug, look it up. At my school, we make the mistake of neglecting pharmacology in other theory modules, because we know that only 5% of the exam will cover it. Then we reach a time where we actually need that knowledge and freak out.

So you’re learning about asthma in the Respiratory Module, or GERD in GIT? Look up the pharmacokinetics and -dynamics of relevant drugs in that formulary. Read it, underline it. You don’t even have to try to memorise it. Honestly. Just get your brain (and your psyche) used to the concepts. That makes it so much easier when the time comes to show your skills.

Another “book” that really helped me – probably because it was less complicated and way shorter – was the WHO’s Guide to Good Prescribing. I would recommend this as standard first-year reading, before a person makes any acquaintance with pharmacology. It is positive and valuable, and best of all, FREE. Click the image to download. Also available in French and Spanish.

The inherent problem with this method is its extra effort, gunner-like nature. It’s not easy. But if you can do it, I can assure you that you will do better than pass.


  1. tight shoes says:

    Great advice as always. Just skimmed through the WHO Guide and I love how user-friendly it is!

    Will definitely make that part of my required reading, should I make it into medical school next year.

    1. Glad you like it. Ooooh are you applying this year or next year? I’ll be holding thumbs for you!

  2. tight shoes says:

    Thank you my dear. I’ve been telling my family and friends to cross fingers, thumbs and toes! I’ve applied for admission in Jan 2014 so I am anticipating that the next few months are going to be hectic as I wait to hear back from universities.

    1. Get enough sleep and stress relief. And keep us updated. I wish you the very best!

  3. H. Buysse says:

    thank you for the pharmacology studying advice. I will definitely follow it because it is so practical.

    1. I hope it helps! Good luck.

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