Pharmacology for Nurses

Pharmacology is the study of action of drugs. This study involves knowledge from various subjects on pharmacology to make a nurse understand how drugs work, their intended effects, and also help them to anticipate and recognise potential side effects. So, of course you know that this is a vital part of your Nursing content and crucial for your unerring profession!

A nurse is the person who is closest to the patient, and can easily monitor his/her condition before and after the administration of drugs. Thus, having an in depth and sound knowledge about medications and their expected responses is indispensable for you. The licensure examination ‘NCLEX’ very well understands this and devotes at least 13 to 19% of the ‘physical integrity’ section to this subject.

Who can understand better than nursing student himself that pharmacology can be really tough if you do not learn it with the right approach. Only cramming does not help, coz you are bound to mix the information as well as sometimes forget what you had learnt. Go through essential things that you must know in this course.


You might be knowing that drugs are classified on the basis of how they affect the body like bronchodilators , laxatives, or by their therapeutic use like antihypertensives, diuretics, antipyretics or by some chemical characteristics like beta blockers.

Classification for adult clients in a clinical setting!

  • Anti-infectives: Used for the treatment of infections. Common side effects include GI upset.
  • Antihypertensives: Lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the myocardium. Common side effects include orthostatic hypotension. Other side effects are specific to types of antihypertensive prescribed.
  • Antidiarrheals: Decrease gastric motility and reduce water content in the intestinal tract. Side effects include bloating and gas.
  • Diuretics: Decrease water and sodium absorption from the loop of Henle (loop diuretics) or inhibit antidiuretic hormone (potassium-sparing diuretics). Side effects of non–potassium-sparing diuretics include hypokalemia.
  • Antacids: Reduce hydrochloric acid in the stomach. A common side effect of calcium-and aluminum-based antacids is constipation. Magnesium-based antacids frequently cause diarrhea.
  • Antipyretics: Reduce fever.
  • Antihistamines: Block the release of histamine in allergic reactions. Common side effects of antihistamines are dry mouth, drowsiness, and sedation.
  • Bronchodilators: Dilate large air passages and are commonly prescribed for clients with asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease. A common side effect of these is tachycardia.
  • Laxatives: Promote the passage of stool. Types of laxatives include stool softeners, cathartics, fiber, lubricants, and stimulants.
  • Anticoagulants: Prevent clot formation by decreasing vitamin K levels and blocking the clotting chain or by preventing platelet aggregation.
  • Antianemics: Increase factors necessary for red blood cell production. Examples of antianemics include B12, iron, and Epogen (erythropoetin).
  • Narcotics/analgesics: Relieve moderate to severe pain. Medications in this cate- gory include opioids (morphine and codeine), synthetic opioids (meperidine), and NSAIDs (ketorolac).
  • Anticonvulsants: Used for the management of seizure disorder and the treatment of bipolar disorder. Medications used as anticonvulsants include phenobarbital, phenytoin (Dilantin), and lorazepam (Ativan).
  • Anticholinergics: Cause the mucous membranes to become dry; therefore, oral secretions are decreased. Anticholinergics such as atropine are often administered preoperatively.
  • Mydriatics: Dilate the pupils. Mydriatics are used in the treatment of clients with cataracts.
  • Miotics: Constrict the pupil. Miotics such as pilocarpine HCl are used in the treatment of clients with glaucoma.


The nurse is expected to use the seven rights when administering medications to the client. These include five rights of drug administration, plus two from the Patient’s Bill of Rights.

The seven rights of medication administration are

  • Right client: Identification of the client must be done by asking the client to state his name and checking the identification band.
  • Right route: The physician orders the prescribed route of administration.
  • Right drug: Checking both the generic and trade names with the physician’s order ensures that the right drug is administered. If the client’s diagnosis does not match the drug category, the nurse should further investigate the ordered medication.
  • Right amount: The nurse is expected to know common dosages for both adults and children.
  • Right time: The nurse can administer the medication either 30 minutes before the assigned time or 30 minutes after.
  • Right documentation (from the Patient’s Bill of Rights and legality issues in nursing): This right is different from the others in that it must be done to prevent duplicating drug administration.
  • Right to refuse treatment (from the Patient’s Bill of Rights): The client has the right to refuse medication or treatment.


This involves collection of data of patients that include laboratory and diagnostic tests to analyse teh patient’s health and recovery rate. Nurses are responsible for administering as well monitoring the theraputitic and unknown effects. Knowing the complete medical history and regular assesment helps in proper medical care.

NOTE: Find more knowledge about Pharmacology for NCLEX and the relevant study material to crack the licensure exam and kick start your career!


The course is intense. It is a comprehensive subject and so it may intimidate you in the first instance. So, you must devise some strategy to handle it!

  • Segregate the important from the less important stuff: It is not necessary to learn all the stuff even you do try to cram it all you are bound to forget some portion of it or get confused in your mind while recalling. It is better that you learn the more important portions and be at ease. How to identify what’s essential? Go through the NCLEX exam apttern and make choices.
  • Devise your own learning style: Everyone learns in a differnt style, let yourself understand the syllabus and read it thouroughly and find out what is the best method for you to learn this content. Drug names can be really confusing. It is better that you learn the classification first and then learn prefixes as well as suffixes to remember the drugs with similar mode of action and effect.
  • Take help of Mnemonics: You can creatively make your own mnemonics to learn extensive drug categories, names etc. It will ease memorisation.
  • Learn with friends: The best way to learn something that’s difficult is to teach others or collective learning. Make a study circle where you can learn along with others.  Concentrate well, call out aloud with friends to cram things better.
  • Take help: You can take help from teachers in your school or from guides too. But what we recommend is to be really NCLEX specific while learning, so that it gives you maximum benefit. Nurses do not prescribe drugs, they are involved in monitoring and analysis of the patient’s condition so too much knowldeg is not required like a medical student may need. It is better for you to go in for a good NCLEX review course that may ease this portion as well as others pertaining to the nursing content and help you cross the NCLEX!

Final Word:

It is the duty of the nurses to keep track of the administered drugs. The tasks need to be done with expertise because a small mistake can be detrimental to victims. Therefore nurses must have solid understanding on drugs so that the nurse can perform the job proficiently.Pharmacology classes teach how drugs act in a human system and on how medication is classified. Many subjects are touched in these training including different physiological systems and the effect of drugs on them. In addition, there is an emphasis on terminology and vocabulary of medications.

Pharmacology for nurses entails a lot of information being absorbed. A nurse with this course is able to understand the internal and external effect of medications and can recognize symptoms of adverse effects or an overdose.

Since, this is an important as well as tough portion of the nursing content, if you can’t handle it yourself find the right support and guidance to help you through.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We recommend BrilliantNurse’s 6 months All access test prep tracks with daily assignments courses for preparation of NCLEX-PN® and NCLEX-RN®. Click the below given for further information. Ultra-extended (6 month access) NCLEX-RN® Test Prep Track + Learning Path – with Daily Assignments and Ultra-extended (6 month access) NCLEX-PN® Test Prep Track + Learning Path – with Daily Assignments






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