Professional Advice / Opinions:

Drugs and Diseases: The Survival Manual

By: Beatrisa Popovitz, Staff Editor


You may have heard the countless horror stories passed on by upperclassman of how D&Ds seep into the crevices of our brains and take over our psyches to inevitably make us breathe, sleep, and speak pharmacy.  Stressing out over exams and investing what may seem like all of your time and energy into studying most probably has become the norm until this point, and unfortunately will continue as you begin the fourth year of this program. The transition may not seem easy, but if you create your own plan of action you can get yourself into the correct frame of mind to succeed in these classes. Here’s how: 

1)    Get Organized

  • Organization is the key to success. Or at the very least, it is a critical tool in acquiring a sense of direction in the midst of the madness that D&Ds generate. This means colorful pens, countless highlighters, subject dividers, binders, desktop folders, Dropbox accounts, iPad notetaking programs – whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable and to keep your notes at hand.  
  • There are typically two different teams you can play on to tackle the note-taking task for these courses: team type or team print. Some students find themselves to be more focused when they handwrite their notes on printed PowerPoint presentations, while others find typing their notes under PowerPoint slides to be quicker and clearer for future reference. Typing makes note sharing via email or flash drive easier, and helps facilitate the creation of review sheets by allowing you to copy and paste into an organized Word document. However, it is strongly advised to print out medicinal chemistry notes, for chemical structures and figures are very difficult to generate on a computer. It is nearly impossible to follow along and draw structures on a regular computer. However, some students with iPad drawing programs have found a unique way to utilize technology for this particular subject.  This is a great time to invest in highlighters and colorful pens to help you follow along in class.
  • Creating review sheets is a great way to summarize information. They allow you to focus on the most important things to remember. In fact, some professors will even give you an outline of material to cover for their exams questions. A good way to avoid getting overwhelmed by all the material presented to you is to split the work amongst members of a study group, or in some cases, the entire class.
  • Although it may have felt liberating in the past to get rid of old notes and empty your hard drives once a class has ended, don’t make that an option this time. I strongly advise you to hold onto your notes for future references on rotations and for the NAPLEX exam. While some information will inevitably become outdated, your notes will serve to be very helpful nevertheless.
  • Get a calendar or a planner, or utilize these features on your phone or computer. Keep your schedule organized so you know exactly how much time you have to study for each section. Also, keep close track of your recitation schedules, for they sometimes do not correlate with the upcoming exams.

2)    Pace Yourself!

  • You are most likely not a stranger to the age-old advice given by countless professors over the years: “Don’t procrastinate, study a little bit each day.” You probably didn’t take that advice to heart and found yourself staying up until the wee hours of the morning clutching a tall glass of coffee cramming your brain with information. That may have gotten you this far, and may have even brought you good grades. However, as you enter the world of D&Ds, you should take this advice seriously and acquire study habits in which you allocate a couple hours out of your day rather than waiting until the last minute to cram. If you wait and cram, you’re just making life ten times harder on yourself, and risking not passing exams. Not to mention, you’d be less likely to remember this information for your boards and for your future. Basically, with D&D, the end result is a very accurate reflection of your study investment.
  • A typical D&D course usually consists of a few days of pathophysiology, followed by pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, and therapeutics. There is simply too much material to be left for last minute studying. There are also weekly recitation quizzes, which are credited towards your grade, and practically “force” students into studying ahead of time and staying atop of the material.
  • Taking the time to truly understand the material can lighten the load, but memorization is unavoidable. In fact, the bulk of your studying will be memorization, especially when dealing with the medicinal chemistry portion. My advice here is to create associations in your mind and employ mnemonics. The earlier you start memorizing, the easier it will be come test time.
  • Use index cards to make flashcards to aid in memorization. This way, you can have easy access to study materials on the go, and you can study a little bit with any down time you get.
  • When you set out to study for a D&D exam, there may be several methods you may wish to utilize. Some students prefer to study in sections, i.e. first studying all pathology lectures for several diseases, then all medicinal chemistry lectures, etc. Others may prefer to study by disease state, i.e. the pathology, medicinal chemistry, and therapeutics for a particular disease before moving onto another disease for which they are also being tested on. Find what works best for you and stick to it! 

3)    Buddy Up!

  • During high school and early years of college, competition amongst peers may have been quite fierce. However, once you’ve made it as far as D&Ds, it becomes apparent that camaraderie overshadows competition – all students are in the same, rocky boat.
  • Finding a study partner with similar habits to yours makes preparing for these exams much easier. Even if you like to study silently, having a classmate at your side is useful if any questions arise, and also to remind you that you’re not alone through this!
  • Study groups allow you to talk things out and put your knowledge to the test before exam days. They only work if everyone is on the same page, so make sure to study before meeting up!
  • Social media becomes very useful to facilitate the organization of your class events and file sharing. Be sure to create an online group for your classmates to serve as a forum for exchanging ideas and notes. Websites such as Dropbox are great to help store and keep track of lectures and recordings. These tools should be organized appropriately to ensure proper use by all members.
  • Due to schedule conflicts, there will be times that you simply cannot meet up with a group. Google Documents is a really helpful tool to allow you and your classmates to create a review sheet and update it in real-time.

4)    Breathe.

  • It is important to take care of yourself and to try to manage your stress despite the time constraints. Exercise and stress coping activities like yoga can help maintain a healthy balance in your life. Be sure to reward yourself by taking short walks or snack breaks after finishing a hard section of material, and take time to enjoy the day after the D&D exam!
  • Sure, D&Ds may appear scary and overwhelming at first, and it will take some time to transition into what may seem like studying on steroids. However, if you approach these courses with optimism, organization, patience, teamwork, and dedication, you will get just as much out of it as you put in. As you enter D&Ds, you are now ready to put to use all the science courses you’ve become knowledgeable in over the past few years. This is actually a quite interesting time in your pharmacy careers as you learn what is most essential for your role as a pharmacist in society.
  • Follow the survival plan, and if you ever find yourself discouraged or overwhelmed, just remember that your hard work will definitely pay off in the future. Just keep swimming.
Published by Rho Chi Post
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