Memorizing Drug Trade Names

memorizing drug trade names brand names medications anki image mnemonic

Learning trade names (or brand names) of medications poses a classic memorization challenge for medical students transitioning from preclinical to clinical medicine. We learn all manner of generic drug names as first- and second-year students, only to find that doctors and patients throw around trade names far more frequently. Knowing these trade names can be invaluable. When a patient rattles off their medications during a history & physical, it’s good to know what they actually are! This recognition can guide your future questioning. Looking up the names after the encounter won’t cut it. Names I’ve heard while working in the ED recently that I never quite locked down until now: Brilinta, Zetia, Synagis, Qvar, Pulmicort, Flovent, Advair, Dulera, Symbicort, Singulair, Effexor, Prevacid, etc. It’s a boon to be able to recognize these without having to pull out your phone.

The skills to learn and retain word associations like these can be essential for any learner—medical student or otherwise—so I thought it may be a helpful exercise to run through my approach to these trade-generic associations. I’ll tackle them using standalone image links. I convert each name into an image and make the two interact in a memorable way. I chose not to use palaces here, for a few simple reasons. First, I created many of these on the fly while working in the ED. Second, I already have larger locations to store information about many of these drugs, so choosing a separate palace to house this list didn’t make much sense. I could have incorporated each image pair into my original locations, but again, see reason #1.

  1. Brilinta (ticagrelor): Going with the first images that spring to mind, I picture a brilliant diamond necklace covered in ticks, which have aggregated all over the necklace.

  2. Zetia (ezetimibe): I threw in this one as an example of a trade name which closely matches the generic. ZETia sounds like eZETimibe. No images necessary.

  3. Synagis (palivizumab): For palivizumab, I picture a teddy bear who’s a great pal. Synagis makes me think of synergize, so I imagine a colony of teddy bear pals working smoothly together. They’re so synergistic!

  4. Qvar (beclomethasone): Qvar makes me think of a question for the teacher. A student throws a pickle (for beclomethasone) to get his/her attention.

  5. Pulmicort (budesonide): I picture a pulmicort courtroom. The defendants are a group of buddies.

  6. Symbicort (budesonide + formoterol): Given the connection to Pulmicort, I return to the courtroom. The buddies are now using foam instruments to form a symphony.

  7. Flovent (fluticasone): A flute floats peacefully down a flowing river.

  8. Advair (fluticasone + salmeterol): I had an old principal named Mrs. Adair, who’s conducting my friend Salma playing a flute. Given the connection to Flovent, I place these images on the side of the flowing river.

  9. Dulera (mometasone + formoterol): Two fencers are dueling. Each of them lunge forward with tons of momentum, using foam noodles as the swords.

  10. Singulair (montelukast): Luke Skywalker in a cast has started singing at Darth Vader during their final battle.

  11. Effexor (venlafaxine): Effexor makes me think of “effects,” which makes me think of a magician waving his wand. A wave of the wand makes a nearby fax machine kick into gear.

  12. Prevacid (lansoprazole): My friend Lance is acting as a hockey goalie, preventing any pucks from going into the goal.

As always, I employ spaced retrieval practice (= spaced repetition + practice testing, the two best-validated learning strategies in the cognitive psychology literature) when appropriate. I create Anki flashcards for each pair, with the trade name on the front and the generic on the back. I use a setting—dubbed “Basic (and reverse card)” in my software—which automatically creates two cards for each association. Yousmle has instructions for creating this setting, which you can find here. One card presents the trade name and asks me to recall the generic, with the other vice-versa. This pair of cards helps ensure I know the association both ways. I may recognize Brilinta as ticagrelor but get stumped when trying to generate Brilinta from ticagrelor. I don’t do this for all medicine cards, but I think it’s appropriate in this case. Here are some examples (left: flashcard creation, right: review):

anki flashcard card creation review spaced retrieval practice basic reverse card

These pairs can certainly be learned by brute repetition. The combination of mnemonic and spaced retrieval practice, however, provides a potent boost that minimizes your chance of forgetting these associations down the road. As usual, once I’m able to recall a name automatically, I ditch the mnemonic.

Have an alternative strategy for memorizing drug names? Share it in the comments below!