How to Study Endocrine Disorders for Nursing School

Endocrine is one of the top Nursing School Med-Surg topics I see nursing students struggle with the most. The disorders all feel overwhelming, confusing, and the symptoms seem to blur together come test time.

But what if I told you that your Endocrine unit could be easily studied with one simple secret? That if you study this ONE thing, then Endocrine will suddenly become one of the easiest Med-Surg units you cover in Nursing school…

Endocrine “Anatomy & Physiology”

It’s no secret how important Anatomy & Physiology is to success in nursing school, and endocrine is no different. The biggest challenge is that Endocrine is sort of a weird body system compared to others in the body. Each partdoesn’t logically flow or connect one to the other. Plus, all of the different hormones have wildly different jobs.

And yet, A&P is still the most important, foundational info you need in order to make Endocrine disorders easier to understand! So let me tell you exactly what the A&P for Endocrine involves.

The Endocrine Chart You NEED to Memorize…

Near the beginning of the Endocrine Chapter of any good Med-Surg Nursing textbook, you’ll find a chart that lists all of the Endocrine glands. There’s usually 3-4 columns containing the following info:

  • the endocrine gland,
  • the hormones it produces,
  • where the hormone travels to in the body (aka the “target” organ), and
  • what the hormone does

That chart is your Endocrine A&P.

(Side note: I recreated a version of this chart for the members of my Group Tutoring Membership, and wrote it in a way that even a 4th grader could understand! Not because you’re dumb, but because it’s easier to understand that way. And things you understand are easier to remember. Want a copy? Join my Group Tutoring Membership today!)

Once you have the Endocrine A&P chart solidly memorized, you’ll have the basics of what you need to know to study each disorder in a way that you can easily understand. This is your foundational knowledge. And you’ll be able to start “thinking like a nurse” about Endocrine disorders, which will make it possible for you to keep the symptoms straight, as well as correctly prioritizing the nursing care.

The Silver Bullet Study System: Endocrine Example-Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-Diuretic Hormone (SIADH)

Even with a solid understanding of Endocrine A&P (aka, memorize that chart!), you still need an organized and effective approach for how to study individual endocrine disorders. That’s why I teach students to use the 4-steps of the Silver Bullet Study System. Here’s a quick example of how you’d use it to study Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-Diuretic Hormone (SIADH).

(Side note: I recently did a BONUS Tutoring Session for the members of my Group Tutoring Membership all about exactly how to study Endocrine Disorders with the Silver Bullet Study System, complete with examples. It was such a FUN tutoring session (yes, I said fun and all the students who attended would agree!). If you want access to the recording + endocrine chart download, join the Group Tutoring Membership today!)

Step 1: The Foundation of Understanding Endocrine Disorders

You already know that a huge part of studying in Step 1 is memorizing that Endocrine chart. That’s because you HAVE to know normal before you can begin to understand what happens when something goes wrong. The relevant SIADH info from the chart is that Anti-diurectic hormone is released from the posterior pituitary gland and travels down to the kidneys to have its effect. What does anti-diuretic hormone do? The name says it all: it’s the opposite of a diuretic, so it tells the kidneys to retain water.

The Endocrine chart alone is not enough for every disorder, though. Sometimes you also have to review basic, foundational topics that are also related. For example, since SIADH sends messages to the kidneys, then you can guess that understanding a bit about normal A&P function of the kidneys might also be important. And you’ll also want to know about osmosis and diffusion, since that’s a large part of how the kidneys operate.

Step 2: Identifying What’s Changed

In Step 2, we ask what has broken or changed, and it’s actually pretty easy to figure out here.

You can either have too much of a hormone, or too little of a hormone. There’s really not a lot of other ways endocrine disorders can happen (same when you’re studying fluid and electrolyte imbalances, FYI).

With SIADH, you have too much anti-diuretic hormone.

Sometimes, I like to add step 2b. In 2b, I mention a few things that could cause the hormone to change in that way. In this case, too much anti-diuretic hormone can be released as a result of a tumor or head injury, for example.

Step 3: Predicting the Symptoms

This is the biggest, most positive change to studying that you can make as a nursing student. It’s the difference between trying to memorize things…and actually starting to think like a nurse.

That’s because you get to practice your clinical judgement skills by taking what you’ve learned about normal (step 1) and connecting it to what has broken or changed (step 2) so that you can predict what will happen next…the symptoms and complications!

For Endocrine disorders like SIADH, this can be super simple. If you know what the “broken” hormone normally does (step 1: anti-diuretic hormone tells kidneys to retain water) AND you know how that hormone has changed (step 2: there’s too much of it), then you can easily predict at least something about what happens next. Namely, that the anti-diuretic is going to do too much of its normal job of retaining water.

Once you’ve got that, you can start to see how simple it is to predict more specific symptoms like decreased urination, fluid overload, edema, and more.

So make a few predictions (this is a super important active learning strategy! don’t cheat and only look in your textbook!), THEN check your textbook to see if your predictions were correct. Make sure to add any important symptoms you didn’t predict, too, making sure that you understand why they happen based on the information in Step 1&2.

Step 4: Nursing Care and Prioritization

Step 4 builds on everything you’ve connected so far, and now it will be easier to decide when to prioritize each nursing action, too.

I like to start by look at Step 3 symptoms and ask myself what kind of nursing or medical care would be needed to take care of those symptoms. For example with SIADH, if the patient was experiencing edema, I would be assessing their level of edema! See, not rocket science, lol. And since the SIADH involves water retention, I might also be monitoring things like input/output and weight gain to measure that.

Then I jump back to Step 2, and ask if there’s any nursing/medical care that could address or correct whatever the root problem is. In this case, the nursing care would then depend on what is causing too much anti-diuretic hormone to be released. If it’s being caused by a tumor pressing on the pituitary gland, we would expect brain surgery, chemo, or radiation for treatment options. But if it is being caused by a head injury, then the care would involve things to address that, instead.

See how understanding the connections makes it easier to prioritize nursing care by helping you understand how it ties to the specific context?

Then I jump back to Step 1, and ask if there’s anything we could have done to prevent the problem, if there’s any patient education that could be done, or if there’s any risk factors we could have identified.

After you make these predictions, you’ll check your textbook to make sure they’re correct. Then add in any additional nursing or medical care that you haven’t predicted yet, making sure to connect it to the previous steps. Just like you did after making predictions in Step 3.

Study Endocrine the Easy Way

Hopefully you can see how much easier and less confusing it can be to study Endocrine disorders using the Silver Bullet Study System. If you don’t yet how to use the Silver Bullet Study System, make sure to get my FREE 10-min video training where I explain the entire process.

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