Medical School Pharmacology: All About Drugs and Pills

What is Medical School Pharmacology?

In pharmacology, you will be learning all about drugs, from how they work (mechanisms of action), to their side effects, to reasons for taking the drugs (indications). Like pathology, this is one of the two most important classes you will be taking in the second year of medical school. Why is pharmacology that important?

Reason #1. This subject is heavily tested on the Step 1 board exam. So if you want to a good score, know pharmacology well.

Reason #2. The things you learn in this course will be very useful when it comes to clinical years (third and fourth years) and after. Patients will be on drugs. Sometimes lots of drugs. And you should have an idea of what the drugs are based on their name. (To be fair, you will most likely carry around a drug reference during your clinical years so there is really no need to know every single thing about all the drugs. But definitely have an idea of what they are, such that heparin is an anti-coagulant and is used as a deep venous thrombosis prophylaxis.)

This course started out with a bang. The sympathetic and parasympathetic drugs were taught by the best teacher I have ever had in UMDNJ. But sadly, he only taught one block. And although pharmacology was overall a well-taught course, it did not quite compare to the way it started.

Pharmacology was taught by many different teachers. And almost all of them were pretty good, at least for second year medical school professors.

My major complaint is how the important drugs (antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-parasitics) were not taught until April, when the school year was almost over and when the board exam was quickly approaching. The reason for the delay in teaching was because clinical medicine took up too much time so the teaching of the important drugs had to be moved back to late in the second year. You can read more about what I think about that in the clinical medicine section.

How to Succeed in Medical School Pharmacology?

What you have to realize is that pharmacology is mostly memorization. There really is not too much to understand. Memorize how the drug works, what it is used for, when you should not use it, and its side effects.

Attending class is not necessary as there is not much to understand. It would be a better use of your time to skip class and just do practice problems.

Towards the end of the second year, I stopped going to pharmacology class. I did not even read the lecture slides because that took up too much of my time. Instead, there were awesome people in my class who created review sheets and sent them out to the whole class. I just studied from the review sheets.

With the extra time from not going to class, I did practice questions. If you can find old exams do them. If you scroll down to the Additional Medical School Pharmacology Resources, you can find an excellent, free online source for practice questions.

By following the advice shown above, I did fairly well in the class; I high passed.

Study Tips

  • skip class
  • study from lecture slide or review sheet
  • do practice problems

Additional Medical School Pharmacology Resources

There were two main additional resources I have used, aside from the lecture slides, to learn pharmacology well. One is a book and the other is a website.


First Aid was as good as gold for learning about pharmacology. I learned pretty much all I know about antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-parasitics from the book. I felt like I knew them cold. I did not have to read through paragraphs and paragraphs to find out what I had to know. Everything was pretty much in chart or list format, so it is quick to go over.
By studying from First Aid, it helps prepare you for the first board exam as well. Make sure you do practice questions instead of just reading First Aid. It will help you solidify your knowledge of the various drugs.

You can read more about my review of First Aid in the medical school bookssection.

Online Resource(s)

The best online resource I have found for pharmacology is the website of Tulane University’s pharmacology department, which is full of quizzes. What makes the quizzes so great is that it explains why a particular answer is right or wrong. It is an excellent tool for learning. I highly recommend it.

Hey, you! Do you want to know how an accountant, without a science background, made it through medical school without any difficulty? Do you want to know how I memorized a sea of information without cracking my skull in half and dumping the books into my brain? No, I did not slave away all night studying in the library either. If you want to know my complete study system, check out The Secret of Studying.

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