More clever and useful mnemonics

August 1, 2009

A history of mnemonics related to pediaitrcs, combined with a first look at a new mnemonic for diagnostics that runs from a to z.

Physicians must frequently rely on memory tools in order to quickly remember items such as signs and symptoms, or categories of diseases. This article gives a background of medical mnemonics, and how they are processed and utilized. In addition, some common and useful mnemonics are provided, including the "A to Zs," a new mnemonic that will help remind physicians of the elements necessary to provide complete medical care.

A tool from antiquity

One of the earliest reports of medical mnemonics goes back to the second century B.C., when either Hippocrates himself or an unknown physician named Mnemon of Side, added abbreviations and signs as a mnemonic to the text of Hippocrates' Epidemics III.5 During the Middle Ages, more mnemonics were found in medical scriptures, many of them in rhyme form.

The mechanics of memory

Pinker described five ways in which the brain utilizes memories.6 Semantic memory is learning triggered by written and spoken words, as in traditional homework assignments. Episodic memory relies on context, spatial memory, or location as the link between memory and recall, eg, the terrorist attack in New York on September 11. Procedural memory is the recall or ability to perform previously learned skills like riding a bike or driving a car. Automatic memory enables individuals to remember pieces of data or chunks of information such as those found in alphabet songs or multiplication tables. Emotional memory is the basis of recall based on strong emotions such as stress, fear, or love. Mnemonics may utilize, in different ways and to different degrees, all of these memory types.

However, not all mnemonics will work the same for all people. Depending on a person's personality characteristics, learning style, sense of humor, and a sundry of unknown factors, different mnemonics will be more or less easily remembered by an individual.