Best mnemonics and memory training for medical students and nurses – Part 1

Many of my readers and students practice medicine. All memory methods we teach are perfectly suited for medicine. Moreover, in 1:1 Anna uses some exclusive methods SPECIFICALLY developed for the medical students.  Since memoization is any extremely important and time-consuming part of any medical practice, and since medical practice is so long and intense,  you have no excuse for skipping memory practice.

This is the first part of a guest article written by one of our friends and students Chase DiMarco. Being a keytostudy student offers certain perks, including the chance to have a podcast with me or Anna, or publishing a  long article with way too many links on this site free of charge.

This specific article is a great way to see the whole world of memory training from a medical student’s perspective.  Neither I nor Anna can do that. I have been developing medical devices for several years, but this does not make me a medical doctor. Also, Chase is very methodic. He starts from the basic methods and slowly builds up the complexity. This is not something we do anymore: we often start directly with our “heavy guns”, and raise intensity from there. So I think this is a great article for any student, not just a doctor or a nurse.


Do you know the most efficient ways to learn for medical school? After conducting dozens of interviews with learning experts, memory champions, and mnemonics practitioners as the host of the Medical Mnemonist Podcast I have learned that there are many preferred styles of learning and remembering information. However, medical students face limitations on time, increases in their cognitive load, and increases in stress levels from a variety of academic and life events. Finding the time to learn a new skill during school is a challenge, and it doesn’t necessarily get easier later on.

My recommendation to any in the health professions is to start learning mnemonics and accelerated learning techniques ASAP. Your time constraints will not likely become less as you progress up the ladder and you can greatly benefit from these learning strategies early on. Knowing which techniques to use and how to use them is an ongoing process, but these are a few recommendations based on your current level of knowledge.

How Do I Start My Mnemonics Training

In Read This Before Medical School, I cover some of the brief histories of memory and the forgetting curve as well as how to start your mnemonics training practice. One of the key tools you must begin to develop is your own Visual Dictionary. This is your personally curated set of potential images you can use in association with different words, themes, or concepts.

In medicine, we have thousands of words from several different languages to understand, as well as created terminology and brand names. We have microbes with Latin names, diseases with French and German names, and pharmacology with a purely arbitrary naming scheme. This vocabulary in combination with complex pathophysiological concepts can make this profession uniquely difficult to create mnemonics for when one is just starting out.

Start off with some simple techniques, such as whatever the first visual that pops in your head is for a particular word or concept. If nothing comes to mind, there are more intricate methods mentioned in The Key to Study Skills, as well as blog posts on the KeyToStudy Memory section and FreeMedEd. Besides Alex Mullen, I am unaware of any other individuals that have significant training in both medicine and mnemonics, which makes it difficult to gain insights and ideas from others. We do our best with the Medical Mnemonist Mastermind Group, so come and join the conversation. Hopefully, we can all teach each other something!

Peg System

Personally, I feel that creating your own Peg System is a great place to begin. It is a low-stress endeavor that allows those new to mnemonics creation to get creative juices flowing. There are many ways to approach the creation of a Peg System and you can listen to my method here, but it basically consists of creating your own Visual Dictionary or Chart of visual associations to the first 10 digits. The most important aspect is to make the visual associations personal to you. Using one created by someone else may work in the short run, but is likely to require more frequent practice in order to memorize the visuals in the long-term.

Medical students can use a peg system of 100 pegs. This is seldom useful in other professions. Enter “100 peg words” in your Google and choose the option you prefer. Now you have your personal index for up to 100 items. If you need above 100  items in your index, you are suggested to use PAO (up to 100^3) or Jordano Bruno methods (up to 49^7 items) instead.

Journey Method

The next step – again, this is a personal preference – is to work with the concept of the Journey Method. In medicine, we have many conceptual frameworks to comprehend and memorize. The respiratory system interacts with the cardiovascular system (i.e.: in/exhale influence pulse pressure). Biochemical and nutrition pathways involve long strings of sequenced events. Pharmacology requires knowledge of the chronological interactions between absorption, cell interaction, and excretion. The Journey Method is a great way to keep a long or complicated series of events in the proper order.

Using the visualization and association techniques we have begun to develop through starting our Visual Dictionary and creating a Peg System (or any other visualization practice), it is now time to combine these images into a story. US Memory Champion, Nelson Delis, gave a great example in my interview with him where he also emphasizes that these skills should be taught in childhood. He remembers the presidents of the United States in order by this example for the first 3 presidents:

He pictures a washing machine and when he lifts the lid of the washing machine it’s full of apples. Someone reaches into the washing machine and pulls out an apple. This individual now holding the apple is dressed as a chef.

For Nelson, the washing machine reminds him of George WASHINGton. The second president, John Adams, brings up the association of Adam’s apple, which is why the washing machine is full of apples. Then a Chef is taking out the apples because of a unique rhyme scheme that Nelson once heard with Jefferson being rhymed with “Chefferson”. Does it matter that “Chefferson” is not a word? Not really. It is all dependent on what works for YOU. Just keep the story in order and the topics associated with each image and schene can be kept in order as well.

Mind Maps

Mind Maps are another great tool that shows promise for increasing long-term retention of information. In Advanced Medical School Note-Taking with Mind Maps, I discuss how you can create these visually appealing memory-devises in class, during lectures, or in preparation for a presentation. The basic concept is not dissimilar from concept mapping a topic, but there are a few aspects of Mind Maps that are thought to improve the retention of material. It does begin with a larger central theme and sub-topics that branch out of this main theme. But that’s about where the similarities end.

For one, they are often vibrantly colorful and color-coordinated by subject or topic to chunk similar concepts together. They are also not overly wordy by design. We do not memorize every word on the page of a book very well, so our notes should not follow this format. However, we can remember in great detail a picture or a painting. Mind Maps focus more on the visual aspects of memory and less on verbal recall. They also have added drawings, icons, images, or other symbolic representations on each of the branches stemming from the main topic. These visual depictions act as yet another way to associate stronger visual memory into our note-taking processes.

You can stick Mind Maps on your walls as reminders of activities and chores. You can save them away for personalized – and even secretive encoded – journal entries and messages. However, for best practices, I recommend you use these tools like any other visual: Spaced Repetition and/or storing them in Memory Palaces for long-term retention.

Where Do I Go Next?

Above is a brief introduction into a few simple, yet powerful, mnemonic techniques that you can train in your own time. However, you may find that the quantity and complexity of the material in many healthcare-related coursework will require something stronger. In Part 2 of Best Mnemonics Training for Medical and Nursing Students we will cover mnemonics in much greater detail and explore some intermediate and advanced techniques.



Chase DiMarco is the founder of and host of several MedEd podcasts. For a list of FME recommended education and mnemonics resources, please click here and try our Free PDF guide. For more training for mnemonics and non-mnemonic study skills, consider purchasing his book “Read This Before Medical School” via the link above.


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