Pharmacology Training Resources for EMS Professionals (#31daysofEMS)


Pharmacology is one of the most interesting topics in EMS, but it requires careful study to understand indications, contraindications, doses, and side effects. Pharmacology also requires patient assessment skills and thorough understanding of your patient care protocols.

After a few tips I will share some pharmacology continuing education tips. These are the Everyday EMS tips I like to share with EMT and Paramedic students.

1. During your morning rig check, as you check the drugs, pause with each drug and think about its indications, contraindications, dosing, delivery route(s), and side effects.

2. Each shift, for at least one drug per shift, look up the drug in a drug guide (this is my favorite drug guide reference, Mosby’s 2009 Nursing Drug Reference ). Especially study the drug’s mechanism of action. This is when it is especially important to understand how the autonomic nervous system functions.

3. Create a set of drug cards, but go beyond listing the details of the drug you would find in a drug reference. Instead write flash cards that are about patient problems on one side of the card. On the other side write out the treatments, including drugs, for the patient problems. Make sure you have cards for these problems and more – hypoglycemia, allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, cardiac chest pain/ischemia, asthma/COPD, seizure, musculoskeletal pain, nausea.

4. Only use memory device/mnemonics if they work for you. I remember during my initial ACLS training classmates pouring over multi-page lists of acronyms for remembering which drugs to give for different ACLS cases. Remembering the  6 to 12 letter mnemonics for me was more complex than just remembering the ACLS algorithim. Do what works for you, not what everyone else is doing or what other people tell you should do.

Some of the pharmacology resources I have helped create or turn to when I have pharmacology questions:

Understanding the Autonomic Nervous System – an session from educator, paramedic, and podcaster Buck Feris. Many students told us this session that they finally “get the autonomic nervous system.”

General Pharmacology and Pharmacology Special Consideratins are two RapidCE lessons from critical care paramedic and EMS Educator Kevin Collopy. In Special Considerations Kevin reviews pharmacology for geriatric patients, pediatric patients, and pregnant patients. Each lesson has an ALS and a BLS version and all lessons are CECBEMS approved.

Diabetic Emergencies – what your instructor didn’t tell you is another fantastic session. Paramedic and EMS Educator Jim Hoffman digs deep into diabetic emergencies and explores just how oral glucose, dextrose, and glucagon help diabetic patients. He also makes sure you correctly assess diabetes as the cause of altered mental status.

Mike McEvoy writes one of my favorite columns, Drug Whys. In each column he thoroughly reviews and describes a drug. In my opinion reading past columns of Drug Whys should be required for any paramedic student.

Finally, Jamie Davis, with nearly 200 episodes of the MedicCast has assembled a huge collection of training content about pharmacology that is part of the MedicCast extra. Members get exclusive access to Jamie’s huge library of content.