*Original post released on 08/20/2020
Pathophysiology is a tough course that can be particularly intimidating if it’s one of your pre-requisites required to gain entry into your school’s nursing program. What really makes this course so intimidating though? Well, to be honest, there are probably a few reasons that come to mind. This class will require quite a bit of reading on your part and you’ll likely have to study routinely to develop an in-depth understanding of the material. In addition to the time committment required, you also have draw upon your prior knowledge of anatomy and physiology as well as biology. This means that you have to be able to accurately recall material from those courses so they can serve as a strong foundation. The sheer amount of topics that you’ll cover in a patho class can also be imposing. Finally, the majority of your grade in a pathophysiology course is likely derived solely from your grades on quizzes and exams. Whew! Now that the negative aspects are out in the open, let’s discuss how you can approach this course to best set yourself up for success.
It’s the week or two prior to the start of your classes, and you don’t have your books or a syllabus yet. What can you be doing to prepare for patho? First and foremost, review any of the notes and study guides you kept from your previous science courses…particularly A&P and biology. Heading into this course with a strong foundation in these subjects will make it THAT much easier for you to comprehend the basics of pathophysiology and the pathogenesis of the most common diseases and conditions. Once your professor begins to release course information, be sure to read the assigned materials PRIOR to each lecture. Pro tip? If your professor is anything like mine was, we had plenty of pop quizzes in the first 10 minutes of lecture. How on earth do you know what material to anticipate for a pop quiz? Check to see if they post power point presentations for your lectures. Review these presentations and read the assigned sections prior to class. The readings will likely be more extensive than the presentation (and their presentations will queue you into which points to focus on). Ding ding ding! This will likely be where your quiz questions come from.
Another recommendation I have for you is to get organized from the very beginning. Have a binder ready and section off your notes either weekly or by exam. Be sure to take quality notes that are concise. To save time and enhance comprehension, try summarizing what you’re reading into a condensed version…in your own words. Try not to use textbook jargon unless it’s unavoidable. Your prof doesn’t provide a study guide? No problem! Take the objectives provided at the beginning of you assigned readings and answer them. If they include objectives in their presentations, answer those as well. Do them in chunks after your lecture to cement the information you’ve listened to for the past few hours (of course, take a break to regroup first). Another reason to do this after class is to make sure you’ve learned the material accurately before attempting to study it for the exam. Don’t put this off until a day or two before your exam, because the material is less fresh in your mind and you’ll be cramming at that point anyway. For this course, you HAVE to prioritize comprehension of the material because it will serve as the building blocks for nearly every other nursing course you will take in your program.
By taking routine notes and putting together a study guide for each exam, you’ll make preparing for your patho final so much easier (and less intimidating!). Another suggestion I have for you is to keep a blank sheet of paper next to you while you study and use it to jot down any questions that come to mind or concepts that seem confusing. Maybe as you read further, you answer some of your own questions. But if this doesn’t happen, you have a list of questions to present to your professor during lecture. Trust me when I say that if you have a question, it’s highly likely more of your classmates have it as well. Utilize your professor’s office hours to the fullest! Dropping by to get your questions answered shows initiative and maturity. It will also likely impress your professor and can be the first step toward building an excellent mentor-mentee relationship (and possibly even serve as a source of personal reference when you start applying for final semester internships or jobs as a new grad).
When you study, break it down in to small sessions. What worked best for me was to focus for 30 minutes, take a 10 minute break, and then study for another 30 minutes. After this, I would take a break and switch courses. Studying like this helps maintain your focus. Don’t be afraid to form a study group! In fact, I highly suggest it. Take your group to the library and reserve a conference room (preferably one that has a whiteboard). Then discuss the pathogenesis for the diseases and conditions you’re learning about and draw it out! Having other students present prevents you from leaving out key points. Plus, it gives you and your group members the opportunity to teach one another. Teaching someone helps you understand the material better, that’s why we have patients return demonstrate key actions like checking their blood sugar or tell us why they’re taking a specific medication.
Now, let’s move on to my final recommendation. And trust me, I’ve saved the best for last! My suggestion is to make a “Patho Bible” by purchasing (or reusing) a 2 inch binder and filling it with blank paper that you’ve 3-hole punched. If you’re a really organized person, grab some section dividers (13) and label them as cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal, neurological, psychiatric, endocrine, chromosomal abnormality, female reproductive, male reproductive, immunologic, skin/musculoskeletal, and disorders of HEENT (head, eyes, ears, nose, throat). As you progress through the course, make a patho flow sheet for each of the major conditions you’re required to know and understand. I’ll go more into the best patho flow sheet setup here in a second. If you’re feeling lost about which conditions to include, check out this book! I call it Bruyere’s patho for short, but it is phenomenal and fairly inexpensive for the wealth of knowledge you’ll gain from it. The physical book itself consists of case studies, but if you purchase it new, it comes with an online code that gives you access to study GOLD. Pure gold. There are a total of 100 conditions discussed in this book. If you understand the additional content provided to you online, I have no doubt that you can ACE your course. Of course you can always look up videos on YouTube as well.
As for the patho flow sheet template, the components I found helpful to include when I took this course were: the name of the condition, what it is, risk factors/causes, pathogenesis, manifestations, diagnostic tests/diagnostic criteria, nursing interventions, and miscellaneous pertinent info (basically anything important that doesn’t seem to fit into a particular category). If you’re taking the pathophysiology course prior to entry into a nursing program (like I did), the nursing interventions section may not be applicable quite yet and that’s okay. You don’t have to include it now. In fact, you can always add a second sheet of paper to that section later on, since you’ll be keeping this “Bible” throughout your program…or at least I highly recommend doing so. If you want a standardized sheet you can use, I put together one that resembles the hand drawn one I used when I was in school. It’s available as an instant digital download in our Etsy shop. Pssst! We also have a similar one to use for handwritten drug cards when you take your pharmacology course.
I truly hope these tips get you off on the right foot as you head into the next semester! I know you’re going to excel with these recommendations, but if you have any that I might have missed, drop them in the comments below to help your fellow nursing school comrades.