The podcasting revival is an opportunity to create new learning experiences for medical students. Dr Shri Pathmakanthan and medical student Hannah Clarke share their journey creating an expanding medical podcast library.

Podcasting is back and it’s got people hooked. According to RAJAR, one in eight people in the UK listens to podcasts and in 2018 half of all podcast listeners were under 35. How can medical educators make the most of this resurging format which is proving popular with younger audiences?

Dr Shri Pathmakanthan is a consultant gastroenterologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and set up PodDoc two years ago to explore a new teaching method. In this interview, he explains why he created a medical podcast at his teaching hospital. University of Birmingham medical student Hannah Clarke tells us why she joined the podcast team.

Why did you start a medical podcast?

Shri: About three years ago I started walking to work. A 25 minute walk came with fresh air, free time to explore my thoughts and an iPod shuffle full of my favourite tracks. However, my curiosity demanded more knowledge, enquiry, and ideas. I started listening to podcasts. 

The content varied from art (The Lonely Palette), history (Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast) to current pop culture (The Joe Rogan Experience) and even film (Kermode and Mayo’s film review). In short I was learning on the move. These podcasts consist of individuals giving us their take on a piece of information, distilling what matters and signalling what’s less important. I wondered about how this could apply to medical education. 

I’m a gastroenterologist in a university teaching hospital. Over the last 17 years, the way students are presented and process information has evolved. The internet means they now have limitless access to almost limitless information. It’s an ocean of information out there but where are the islands of wisdom?

This is why an interactive educational experience with a consultant still matters to medical students. We might not know as much as Google but we can tell you what matters. We put into practise the salient points on a daily basis while avoiding the otiose. Students love the tutorial. They know what’s said matters a lot.

What is PodDoc and how did you create it?

PodDoc is a podcast curated by Dr Pathmakanthan. He regularly interviews consultant specialists for 20 minute episodes, distilling the vital aspects of a variety of topics from ascites to blood products and even DNAR. PodDoc allows you to review content you would expect to cover in lectures or tutorials at your own pace, at your convenience.

Making PodDoc is a labour of love. It’s a creative process and there’s an art to being succinct and engaging.

Shri: We started off the project with no past experience of creating a podcast, no training, no hardware, no software, no publishing platform. No matter! Some serendipity was around the corner. There was a Dutch medical student who was on her elective with us. She played in a band at home and had experience with recording sound. Today, decent audio quality is achieved with digital recorders purchased online and software is easily available to edit recordings.

Next, we arranged interview time with clinicians. I booked a room and did prep on the subject. There is no point talking to a national or international expert when you aren’t on the ball knowing exactly what take home messages need to be clarified. The subsequent recording then needed editing and polishing up specifically getting rid of background noise, boosting some base and treble, ensuring it was loud enough to listen while walking, working out or even cooking. Anywhere, anytime.

Focus grouping medical students quickly lead to the conclusion that they wanted this accessible on their smartphones. So we created an app to access all the episodes, including categorisation and a search function. Making an app is expensive but we were fortuitous to meet a medical student who codes and was keen to support the project. James Richmond succeeded spectacularly and the app was accepted on the Android and Apple app stores. We were ready to go!

Dr Pathmakanthan interviewing a doctor for the podcast

Photo credit: Dr Shri Pathmakanthan

Making PodDoc is a labour of love. It’s a creative process and there’s an art to being succinct and engaging. Working in the NHS can be hectic and busy at times but you get to meet a lot of people and experts in their fields. They are full of wisdom and the trick is to get them to give you 20 minutes of their time to talk to you. This is usually accomplished with a lot of patience as consultants are busy and may have to cancel last minute.

What do students love about the podcast?

Hannah: I think that one of the best things about PodDoc is its ever-growing library. When I first met Dr Pathmakanthan, I had only ever been exposed to podcasts through influencer content like Deliciously Ella, or comedy podcasts. I had never really thought about how podcasts could add to my medical knowledge.

The way PodDoc is set up, as Dr Path outlined above, allows for quick bursts of learning in 20 minutes, from consultants in their respective specialist fields. This is great for primary learning, recapping, but most importantly for me, revision. It accesses a part of learning that students don’t often explore; we’ve been taught at medical school through platforms such as online lectures, small group sessions or consultant teaching. PodDoc has literally – believe me – an episode for every topic you need to pass finals, and more are being added every month.

MDU podcasts

Podcasts remain a relatively new and fresh teaching mechanism, and also give us the unique opportunity to explore issues beyond the curriculum. The women in surgery episode (one of the many episodes available on the PodDoc app) is an example of this; it allowed students to ask questions they were otherwise too afraid to ask in normal teaching, and discussed the modern topic of women in healthcare.

My favourite part of podcasts are that they allow for learning on the go. Most medical students have the daily commute, from a quick walk up the road to the unbearable, traffic laden journey along the M6. By putting on a podcast, it means we can use this valuable time (of which we don’t have much as medical students!) to recap something we want a refresh on. Just like Dr Path, we’re learning on the move and can get even more out of a commute.

What’s next for the podcast?

Shri: Increasingly we have received enquiries from patients asking to listen and contribute to the content. They have an opportunity to listen to consultants explain the nature of their illness to patients with similar diseases. They will also have access to information discussing drugs used in their condition and the rationale behind certain methods of care. 

We want to bridge the gulf between health providers and their patients. We would love to work with patient groups and develop these themes. This kind of collection also deserves to be publically accessible.

In PodDoc, we’ve created something affordable students around the world studying the medical sciences can access. We achieved this by persuading experts in their field to give us 20 minutes whenever they could spare, drawing out important information in a quality dialogue and delivering it on a platform accessible via smartphones. We hope more medical schools will find our educational project interesting enough to recommend it to their students. Our students like it so far.

Listen to PodDoc through the app downloadable from the Apple app store or Google app stores.

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