I’m always looking for shortcuts to better my retention and memory when studying. Mnemonics have always been a key part of this. But what’s better than plain mnemonics? Funny medical mnemonics.
So here’s a comprehensive list of some particularly great ones.
What Are Medical Mnemonics?
Before I dive in, just a quick one for those unfamiliar with the term. Mnemonics don’t have to be about medicine specifically. They are just instructional strategies designed to help students remember things better.
Almost everyone will know at least some mnemonics. You’ll most likely have learned some in infant school.
“ROY G. BIV” is a popular non-medical one, describing all the colours of the rainbow.
Generally there are nine basic types:
In medical school we mainly use connection, image, note and expression mnemonics to remember lists or concepts. You’ll see more examples of these later.
Why Use Medical Mnemonics?
Personally I’m a fan of mnemonics because they make remembering things so much easier. Most of my medical school recommendations are resources that make strong use of this technique. Especially ones like Sketchy and First Aid for USMLE.
They are effective because they help encode information and aid our retrieval by connecting information together. Associating a word with an image, for example, is far more powerful than trying to recall the meaning of that word on it’s own.
The word itself is actually derived from the Ancient Greek for “memory”. While the techniques were also employed by philosophers like Aristotle and Plato too.
So using them in med school puts us in very good company.
What’s the Evidence for the Efficacy of Mnemonics?
According to this study only 20% of medical students make use of medical acronyms. Which is surprising given other literature on the subject. And especially reports like this that suggest that using mnemonics has “long-term benefits for older adults.”
Where there application appears tricky is in their creation and relevance. With some academics arguing that they need to be presented to students at the right time in a course of study to be fully effective.
This 2010 study, in the Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, outlines these particular challenges.
Anecdotally of course, I’ve always found them to be useful. Especially when used in conjunction with the effective studying techniques I believe work. And when supercharged with placement on a flashcard.
20 Funny Medical Mnemonics
In no particular order – and no particular subject (although most are anatomical) – are the following entertaining medical mnemonics. Enjoy!
(P.S. There are a lot of ruder, slightly more fun ones. But, in the hopes of salvaging the tone of this blog, I’ll send you off-site to see these instead.)
#1: SAL Figured Out PMS
This is a great one for remembering the branches of the external carotid artery. A particularly annoying vessel for beginning anatomists.
In order of distal to proximal the branches run (S) superior thyroid, (A) ascending laryngeal, (L) lingual, (F) facial, (O) occipital, (P) post. auricular, (M) maxillary and (S) superficial temporal.
#2: C3, 4, 5 – Keeps the Diaphragm Alive!
This is one of my favourite mnenomics for remembering the nerve innervation roots of the diaphragm. Y’know. The muscle that keeps you breathing etc.
I think I picked this up from the excellent Sam Webster. My go to guy for everything Anatomy.
Sam also has lots of golden medical mnemonics littered all over his videos too.
#3: Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle
The hand is the most loveliest of organs. But remembering the bones that make the hand up can be a nasty challenge. This mnemonic, an old staple of mine, is very tried and tested.
Running from interior to exterior, use it the following way; scaphoid, lunate, trapezium, pisiform, trapezoid, trapezium, capitate and hamate.
#4: Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch A Firm Vegetable Gives Vegetarians Amazing Happiness
A good one for the cranial nerve orderings, 1-12. Particularly if you’re a vegan (or vegetarian).
#6: Some Say Money Matters But My Brother Says Big Brains Matter More
Swap out the “brains” for something more fun here and you’ve got yourself a much more memorable mnemonic. ????
Again used for the cranial nerves. Only this time their sensory, motor (or both) nerve functions. Radiopedia has a few variations here.
#5: Kings Play Cards on Fat Girls Stomachs
A nice biology one. Particularly useful in microbiology or parasitology to remember the Linnean taxonomy. Where “kings” is placeholder for kingdoms, “play” for phyllum etc.
#7: I Love MTV
A nice biochemistry one for remembering the precursors to the formation of succinyl-CoA. The big daddy in the Krebs Cycle.
Isoleucine, methionine, threonine and valine. If you’re interested.
Does anyone even watch MTV anymore?
#8: Chubby, Twisted, Never Could Cha-Cha-Cha
Another anatomy one and kind of pertinent seeing as it relates to dance (cha-cha-cha).
Use this to remember the ordering of the tarsal bones of the feet; calcaneus, talus, navicular, cuboid, cuneiforms (x3).
#9: DARTH VADER
A rather chilling but weirdly funny reminder of myocardial infarction. Y’know, the type of thing this character from Star Wars is likely to provoke in people…
(D) Death. (A) Arrhythmia. (R) Rupture. (T) Tamponade. (H) Heart failure. (V) Valve disease. (A) Aneurysm. (D) Dressler’s Syndrome. (E) Embolism. (R) Regurgitation.
#10: Heart Block Poem
I’m a big fan of this one. Works like a charm when you’re desperately trying to figure out what the heck is going on in that ECG. Credit goes to Princeton Surgical Group here.
#11: A Wet Bed
This is a nice ironic one for remembering basic kidney functions. So you can spot if things are going wrong. Which they will…
Hat-tip to Lecturio for the image.
#12: I GET SMASHED
A neat acronym that summarises the main causes of acute pancreatitis. Yes, drinking is one of the primaries.
The images here are pretty great too.
One of those fun sounds that only an immature adult (like myself) can truly appreciate. It’s also what I imagine neutrophils might sound like when they appear at the site of inflammation.
What’s smart is that each letter makes up their chemotactic effects: (P) Platelet activating factor. (L) Leukotriene (LTB4). (I) Interleukin (IL-8). (C) Complement (C5a). (K) Kallikrein.
#14: All Dogs Eat Kittens
Terrifying to think that dogs eat kittens, this is also a very memorable way to recall fat soluble vitamins (ADEK).
Let’s just hope those poor cats are digested quickly so as not to prolong their suffering. Dark.
#15: I Watch Death
Speaking of black humour, what about this one?
You can use it for observing the main causes of delirium.
Infections, withdrawal, acute metabolic disturbances, trauma, CNS pathology, heavy metals, deficiencies of vitamins, endocrinopathies, acute vascular, toxins and hypoxia.
#16: The Zipper Bit My Crotch
This one’s a bit lighter in the humour stakes. But doesn’t really have much to do with the main superficial branches of the facial nerve. Of which it’s used to remember.
Still something visual us males can recognise at least.
Also see; to zanzibar by motor car. Another handy (if weird) acronym.
#17: Really Need Beer to Be at My Nicest
A good one to remember the lateral to medial structures in the cubital fossa (front of elbow). This is also the bit of your body you’re most likely to flex to enjoy a cold one in the first place.
Radial nerve, brachialis tendon, brachial artery and medial nerve.
It’s all about the imagery.
#18: A Physician Takes Money
A good way to remember the order of cardiovascular auscultation sites (aortic, pulmonary, tricuspid and mitral). As well as why most medical students are in the game.
#19: Cats are CHIC
Cats may be stylish but there’s nothing stylish about toxoplasmosis, a disease you’re most likely to get from street felines.
The common symptoms? The CHIC part; chorioretinitis, hydrocephalus and intracranial calcification’s.
Chic has never been so classy.
#20: Come, Lets Get Sunburned
An ironic way to remember the layers of the epidermis.
(C) Corneum (the one likely to get burned). (L) Lucidum. (G) Granulosum. (S) Spinosum.
And a key reminder to wear sun-cream.
Where Can I Find More Medical Mnemonics?
Although I can’t guarantee they’ll be that funny, there are plenty of resources out there to find solid mnemonics that you can apply to your medical studies.
My general advice is to add these to flashcards in your deck of choice; self-made or pre-made. I notice, at least, that my recall is faster and more successful the more I do this. Although I do have a hard time coming up with effective mnemonics myself!
So you’ll probably much more creative.
If you need inspiration though, here are some good places to go:
- First Aid for USMLE (lots of super useful mnemonics for all core medical subjects)
- Wikipedia’s awesome list of medical mnemonics (on all the main subjects as well as patient history taking!)
- St Michael’s Hospital’s medical mnemonics (these have some awesome illustrations too)
- MedicalMnemonics.com (a massive database that includes user submissions too)
- RxPG Medical Mnemonics (this database has over 4000 plus mnemonics including even the less common areas of medicine, like forensics, and parasitology).
- EpoMedicine Medical Mnemonics (EpoMed’s section has some very specific ones for certain memory-heavy areas of a curriculum)
You can also find a whole bunch of great ones simply by Googling around for whatever course or subject you’re studying. Use the query “allintitle: topic + mnemonic” to find what you need.
I hope you find using medical mnemonics as fun and useful as I have!
P.S. If you liked this kind of thing, check out my article on medical school quotes too.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.