The Best Way to Study Pathophysiology (The Ultimate Guide)

Pathophysiology can seem scary. There’s a lot to it and not all of it is straightforward.

The best way to study pathophysiology? Have patience. Have a good set of notes and flashcards. Do a ton of question practice.

This is the ultimate guide on how to do exactly that. In this article you’ll find:

  • Top recommendations on how to approach studying
  • What the top students suggest as best methods
  • My personal favorite strategy
  • Great pathophysiology study resources
  • Links to supplementary learning materials 

Having taken pathophysiology myself (Year 3 Medicine), I know your fears.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

The Best Way to Study Pathophysiology: General Tips

First, let’s talk general tips on the best ways to study pathophysiology. Here’s what you can do to do well in the subject from day one:

  • Take one day at a time
  • Fix your study environment
  • Refresh anatomy and physiology
  • Record the lectures
  • Take efficient notes
  • Use flashcards, study sheets and mnenomics

Let’s expand a little further. There’s also a bunch of extra tips at the end…

Take One Day At a Time

Pathophysiology is very content heavy. Don’t go into this thinking you can ace it in a few nights of study. You’ll need to pace your studying out consistently throughout the course.

Start by looking at your syllabus. Don’t feel intimidated by it or overwhelmed. Thousands of med and nursing students do well in this course every year. There’s no reason you shouldn’t.

Take time to think about your learning style:

  • Visual learners: skip to the YouTube recommendations section in this article.
  • Mixed learners: think about the textbooks you might want to use. You’ll need something image heavy.
  • Auditory learners: check out my pathophysiology podcast recommendation.

Last tip; pathophysiology requires asking why. A lot. Get in that habit now. Seek to get to the bottom of why diseases happen.

Fix Your Study Environment

Kind of an obvious one but make sure you have a suitable place to study. Personally I like coffee shops or libraries. But they’re not great for the next tip.

Find somewhere where you can talk aloud. This is one of the best ways to study pathophysiology; to explain it like you’re teaching it. It makes up my core study philosophy.

Refresh Anatomy and Physiology

Yes, they’re hard but they also make up most of this course. Spending a little time revisiting them is really going to help. Especially if you can incorporate them into pre reading sessions before a class.

There are some great anatomy websites here that can help!

Record the Lectures

I didn’t do this myself as I prefer to skip out on my lectures to learn independently. You might get a lot of value out of it though. Especially if you play your lectures back as you’re walking around or driving etc. 

1.5 or 2X speed if that helps.

Take Efficient Notes

Pathophysiology is one of the few courses I actively took notes on. Handwriting concepts helped reinforce them in my mind. Drawing spider diagrams and mind maps is another good tip.

The best way to take notes is to look at the objectives for each class or module of the course. Then skim your learning materials keeping only those objectives in mind. Just make notes on those things – otherwise you’ll have reams of them and you’ll only end up wasting your time!

Read your text by skimming the headings, looking at the diagrams and reading the short summaries. Don’t sweat reading entire chapters. You have to work smart not hard.

If your course requires you to read journal articles go straight to the discussion and conclusion sections. Forget reading the entire paper!

Use Flashcards, Study Sheets and Mnemonics

Yes, flashcards are the best way to memorize pathophysiology – provided you understand the concepts first. Make your own or search for a good online deck. Avoid using the exact Quizlet decks made by people in your school – you could get caught out!

Many students recommend the Robbins and Cotran Pathophysiology Flashcards. Although I didn’t use them myself (I actually didn’t know about them at the time), they do have an excellent rating on Amazon.

Making your own one-page study sheets and mnemonics can help too. For examples of funny mnemonics check out this round-up.

A Few Extra Tips

Here are some other popular tips many successful pathophysiology students recommend:

  • Know your professor: figure out what they commonly test and expect of their students
  • Associate facts with word associations: Feeeeeever promoted by PGE2 (prostaglandin E) for example
  • Quiz yourself: practice what you learn with different question types (resources recommended at the end of the article)
  • Study groups: great for teaching aloud and explaining concepts to better understand them
  • Regularly review mistakes: keep a record of failed questions and review them periodically. Failure is one step closer to success.

There’s a lot of pathophysiology-related gold in this video from Nurse Liz…

What Will I Learn In Pathophysiology?

You’ll learn what is happening in the body due to disease in pathophysiology. You’ll also review anatomy and physiology, as well as pick up new information relevant to courses like pathology and pharmacology too.

It’s well worth spending the time and effort on.

How to Study Pathophysiology in Medical School

I really enjoyed studying pathophysiology in med school. It’s one of those courses where everything you’ve been learning suddenly comes together. 

The best way to study is to follow the general principles explained above. But here’s a little extra:

  • Don’t cram: do a little bit of study every day. Always seek to understand first then memorize later.
  • Anki: yes, there’s an awesome deck with lots of pathophysiology related cards already available for free download. Search for keywords in the browser and unlock cards accordingly.
  • Review book: forget the 952 page beast that is Robbins Basic Pathology. Being in med school you don’t have time for that. Study from the condensed (504 page) review book instead. Then practice every single question in it.

Here’s what it looks like…

Pathophysiology Resources

Pathophysiology might not have as many resources as anatomy or other subjects but it’s definitely got some good ones.

One of the best ways to study the subject – especially to clarify anything you might not understand – is to head to YouTube. Here are the best channels for the job…

YouTube Pathophysiology Channels

  • Armando Hasudungan: as mentioned before this is great for visual learners. Armando’s drawings and explanations are second to none.
  • Paul Bolin: Dr Bolin has a gift for simple explanations. Lots of his content is great for pathology and clinical rotations too.
  • Professor Fink: check out his physiology playlists to find the stuff relevant to pathophysiology. Another excellent teacher.
  • Handwritten Tutorials: similar to Armando but with unique black and white explainers. Videos tend to be shorter than Armando’s.
  • Health Ed Solutions: home to very useful videos reviewing things like arterial blood gases (very tricky) and lots of cardiovascular pathophys.
  • Mint Nursing: it was actually these guys that saved my butt when it came to understanding acidosis and alkalosis.

Pathophysiology Learning Platforms

Most of the usual med education platforms crop up when it comes to recommendations surrounding studying pathophysiology. Here are the more popular ones:

Pathophysiology Podcasts

Dr Gerald Cizadlo from the College of St. Scholastica has a very good pathophysiology podcast series. Although they’re a little old (they ended in 2013) there’s over 172 of them. 

Perhaps just listen to the ones related to topics you’re struggling with.

You can download them here.

And if podcasts are really your thing check out my article 6 funny medical podcasts to supercharge your studies.

Pearson Reviews and Rationales: Pathophysiology

This is the book that most nursing students of pathophysiology recommend. It’s great for test prep for the NCLEX and has lots of practice questions, test taking strategies and review chapters. It’s not too long either at just over 500 pages.

Clinical Pathophysiology Made Ridiculously Simple

I’m a massive fan of the Made Ridiculously Simple series. I read both this and the neuroanatomy title and I swear I got most of the hard to understand stuff on the first pass. The best thing about these books? They talk to you like an actual human. 

What else is cool about them are the funky diagrams, fun jokes and memorable metaphors. It’s much easier to read this than any other book recommended here.

Pathophysiology Made Incredibly Easy

A sort of “pathophysiology for dummies”. Haven’t read this book personally and it gets a few mixed reviews. It’s a little longer than the others at just over 600 pages.

Could be worth a look.

The Best Pathophysiology Study Template

This should have the following features (maybe write these down on a flashcard or something similar):

  • Etiology (reason for the disease)
  • Mechanism of the disease
  • Manifestations (symptoms etc)
  • Diagnostics
  • Clinical course or complications
  • Other (prevention/promotion etc)

Learn this for all the major diseases and you’ll be golden. Sure, it’ll take a lot of work. But this is pathophysiology not pick-up sticks.

Where Can I Find Pathophysiology Study Questions?

Registered Nurse RN has a big bank of related questions. They aren’t pathophysiology-specific per se but you can find the topics on the systems you want to cover and take it from there.

I’ve also got a list of places you can practice anatomy and physiology questions (both tying into pathophysiology) here. These are all free to use.

All of the pathophysiology textbooks mentioned above have practice questions too. But the Robbins Review book has the best ones.

Where Can I Find Pathophysiology Worksheets?

Teachers Pay Teachers have several of Pathophysiology-related worksheets but you do have to pay. has a couple of free worksheets to complete alongside lessons but they are quite specific. This one is on the pathophysiology of cancer for example.


Studying pathophysiology might seem like a lot of work but it can go fast once you get into the subject. 

Hopefully the recommendations and resources above can help take the sting out of it a little and also help you get a top grade. 

Good luck!

Image Credit – @avery at Unsplash