Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How To Study: Picture Mnemonics

how to study medical school university
In my post on how I make study notes I mentioned that I draw a lot of cartoons -- or what you might call "picture mnemonics" -- to help me to remember things. I'm not an artist by any means and I'm probably the only one my pictures make sense to, but that's okay! So long as I can picture them during my exam they've served their purpose.

clinical microbiology made ridiculously simple mark gladwin
(c) Mark Gladwin

below: chlamydia affects eyes
& genitals
During medical school I bought the textbook Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple by Mark Gladwin. I was surprised and delighted to find it chock full of picture mnemonics! Here are a few of them, so that you know what I'm talking about:
medical school picture mnemonic
above: salmonella spreads through the blood stream to bone, lungs, & CNS

below: Staph form clusters and are catalase positive (c) Mark Gladwin
medical school picture mnemonic medical school picture mnemonic

After microbiology block I was left to devise my own picture mnemonics. They usually look something like this:
how to study medical school university
Spironolactone blocks androgen receptors & aldosterone receptors (shoe because Aldo is a shoe store).
how to study medical school university
In Goodpasture Syndrome autoAbs attack the kidneys & lungs, resulting in blood in the urine & hemoptysis.
how to study medical school university
Alport (sounds like "airport") Syndrome is caused by a collagen IV gene mutation (4 colas on the drink trolley). Symptoms include hearing loss and cataracts (earplugs and eye cover worn by airplane passenger), as well as ESRD and glomerulonephritis (airplane bathroom to remind me of these renal symptoms).
how to study medical school university
MEN-2A and MEN-2B both have MTC ("Mt. C.") and pheochromocytomas ("exciting"). The difference is that MEN-2A has parathyroid hyperplasia (the "para"chute in the "A"ir) and MEN-2B has Marfanoid habitus and mucosal neuromas in the "B"ouche (French word for mouth). The 2 mountain peaks signify that this is MEN-2 (not MEN-1) ...Maybe this one is too confusing!!
how to study medical school university
Croup is remembered by a chicken "coop" (sounds like "croup") with a steeple on it ("steeple sign" on x-ray). It is most commonly caused by parainfluenza virus ("para" means beside, so the virus is beside the coop) and presents with a barking cough (dog) and stridor. It is treated with steroids ("stair"oids). 
how to study medical school university
"My" for Mycobacterium, water for Listeria and Legionella (because both can grow in water), salmon for Salmonella, and a bubo for Yersinia (because it causes bubonic plague!) -- all are in a white blood cell because they are intracellular organisms.

Sometimes I think of a picture mnemonic that's too complicated to draw out. I just remember those ones as stories, which I pencil into the margins of my notes. For example, to remember the names of the three acetylcholinesterase inhibitors used to treat Alzheimer's (galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil), I think to myself: "The gallant knight, Rivastigmine, rescues damsel Donepezil". (It's a weird one, I know, but the word Rivastigmine made me think of Rumpelstiltskin, which reminded me of fairy tales, which made me realize that Donepezil sounds a bit like Rapunzel ...aaand I'm sure that makes no sense to you, but it did to me and now I remember the three drugs!)

A better example is this one thought up by a friend in medical school: To remember three common encapsulated bacteria, remember "Saturday Night Hockey" because hockey players wear helmets (i.e. capsules). The S is Streptococcus pneumoniae, the N is Neisseria meningitidis,and the H is Haemophilus influenzae.

While some people would think picture mnemonics are a ridiculous waste of time, to me they can be pretty helpful ...and also make studying marginally more fun :)

If you're interested, here are other posts I've written about how I study:
On getting organized to study:

On studying:


  1. What an interesting way to take notes and study. Love the cartoons! :)

    1. Thank you! Glad you think it's interesting rather than crazy :)

  2. Hi, I love picture mnemonics. Would you mind sharing some other ones if you have anymore? They're great! :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment :) I actually just drew these ones out for this post (they were the only ones that came to mind at the time!), but in the months to come when I sit down to do more studying, I'll try to write out any that I come across and make a post of them. Thank you for the suggestion!!


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