Tips for Studying for Med Surg
Though it goes by many different names, the class that teaches you about disease conditions and how to care for patients with those specific conditions is your “Med Surg” class. For many students, this is the class that takes up most of their time, causes the most stress and is the most difficult adjustment to make.
In “Med Surg” you’ll be learning how to think like a nurse and answer application-style exam questions that are designed to mimic the NCLEX. The reason this class is such a big adjustment is that thinking like a nurse is an entirely different way of learning because you’re doing so much more than simply reviewing material. You’re actually learning how to APPLY the knowledge that you’ve learned. It’s a lot less of the “what” you are used to learning and so much more of the “why” and the “how.”
For example, in A & P, you learned that potassium plays a role in cardiac muscle action potentials. In Med Surg, you learn that a patient with hyperkalemia will show changes on the EKG, be at risk for cardiac arrest, and that medications that shift potassium into the cell will be given in an effort to prevent this from happening. You’ll need to know which patients are at risk for hyperkalemia, what labs to draw in addition to potassium, and how to monitor the patient. In other words, it’s so much more than just the “what.”
One of the biggest challenges students have is knowing how to focus their studying for this particular class when there is SO MUCH information on each and every topic (chances are, your Med Surg text is one of the biggest you’ve ever had!). It can be overwhelming to think you have to know EVERYTHING about a disease condition, which leads to students overstudying, wasting time, and heading down the path toward burnout. And we definitely don’t want that! Get a double dose of these tips by listening to them in episode 166 of the Straight A Nursing podcast.
Focus Your Studying with the LATTE Method
The LATTE method has helped thousands of students understand what to actually focus on when learning disease conditions. It helps you to start thinking like a nurse and narrows your attention to nurse-relevant information. It is so easy to go down an endless rabbit hole of information about every single disease condition, but You Do Not Have Time For That. So, what is the LATTE method and how do you use it?
L: How does the patient LOOK?
For this section of your study guide, jot down all things you’d notice about a patient with this particular disease condition. What are their signs/symptoms, how do they sound, what do they look like or even smell like? Basically this is the overall patient presentation. Don’t worry about which things are most important yet, we’ll get to that in a moment.
A: How do you ASSESS the patient?
In this section, make a list of all the things you need to assess on this patient. Maybe you need to take their vital signs, listen to lungs, do a pain assessment, measure their abdominal girth, monitor their gait, assess their cranial nerves, place them on the telemetry monitor, and so on and so on.
T: What TESTS will be ordered?
In this area you want to make note of any diagnostic or other tests such as imaging studies and labs.
T: What TREATMENTS will be provided?
This is where you make note of all the treatments relevant to this particular disease condition. Be sure to include MD orders (including medications) and nurse-driven interventions.
E: How will you EDUCATE the patient/caregiver?
Every disease condition has specific teaching points that you want to make sure you understand. This can include medication administration, dietary guidelines or activity restrictions. If it’s something the patient needs to know (especially once they leave the hospital), you want to include it here.
You can write these up on your own, or use my template which you can download for free here.
Rewrite Your Notes
No, I do not mean that you should just copy your notes over and over again. Instead, I want you to take the notes you wrote during lecture and rewrite every concept into your own words using full sentences. I know many of you are going to say, “I don’t have time to rewrite my notes…I need to study!” well guess what, my friends? Rewriting your notes IN YOUR OWN WORDS is one of the most effective study methods you can employ. It forces you to think through the concepts and connect the dots between all those PowerPoint bullet points and keywords you jotted down during lecture.
Once you’ve rewritten your notes into your own words using full sentences, then you can go back and turn them into charts, tables, illustrations and any other format that helps you retain and recall the information.
Do NCLEX Practice Questions
Even though you’re not taking your NCLEX until after you graduate, the time to start doing practice questions is now. Your school’s exams will be using this type of question to prepare you for NCLEX and test your ability to “think like a nurse.”
Here’s your NCLEX practice question strategy:
- Choose a topic related to what you are studying in school. It helps to have a book that separates the questions by body system.
- Do your best to answer each question, taking your time to read them carefully. NCLEX questions can be tricky and often one little word will change everything!
- Check to see if you got the question correct.
- Read the rationales for why the correct answer is correct (even if you thought it was easy!) and why all the other answers are incorrect.
- Keep a notebook handy so you can jot down any little tidbits of information that you learn as you read these rationales. I promise you there will be a LOT! This is the information you want to review periodically as it will help you answer NCLEX style questions immensely.
- Make note of any recurring themes. For example, you’ll see certain drug side effects over and over again or certain symptoms of particular diseases that come up repeatedly. These are your Big Ticket Items and are likely to show up on NCLEX and your nursing school exams. Make sure you make note of these and then go back through your LATTE study guide and highlight those things in your notes.
If You’re an Auditory Learner
If you can also learn by listening, then take advantage of that! You are SO LUCKY because you can listen while you exercise, fold laundry, drive, do yardwork, float in the pool, etc…
You have several options for listening and learning, depending on your tech ability and how much time you have:
- Record yourself reading your rewritten notes and then play it back while you do all those things I listed above. Hearing your own words in your own voice is incredibly powerful!
- Listen to my podcast (you can use the search at the top of this website to find episodes to match what you are currently studying).
- Follow the tips here to turn your ebook textbook into audio format.
- If you love audio quizzes that test your knowledge, then try out Study Sesh! It’s my private podcast that uses PodQuizzes, case studies, drills and more to really take advantage of audio learning so you can still feel productive without having to always be sitting at your desk. Learn more here.
With these tips for studying Med Surg, you’ll basically be unstoppable. Good luck!
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