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January 22, 2017

Podcasts gaining ground as force in medical education, Penn doctor says

Diving into the world podcasts is something people of all backgrounds and hobbies often say is a defining moment for them, remodeling the way they seek out and absorb information — namely, on the go or while completing other important tasks.

After a decade of explosive growth in the realm of podcasts — name any area of special interest and there's a producer to fill the need — the streaming audio format is making serious inroads in the world of medical education, according to a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

James Siegler, a resident physician at Penn, has made a name for himself online through his weekly BrainWaves podcast, which provides updates on the latest developments in neurology research, trends and patient cases. He says audio files and podcasts are now indispensable part of student success in medical school.

“Students, residents, and fellows are overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to filter through and distil,” Siegler told Penn Medicine News. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to learn as much as we want to learn as quickly as we want to.”

A recent national research survey determined that medical students now spend as much time listening to podcasts as they do reading textbooks, often learning while at the gym, on the train, in the car or around the house.

The growth in popularity of medical podcasts has been spurred in part by a shift in programming among major medical journals from the Lancet to the New England Journal of Medicine, both of which now produce audio briefs on the latest research and storytelling podcasts. Other podcasts deal directly with how to best manage the stresses, overload and competing interests of completing a medical education. 

For Siegler, putting together his weekly show for BrainWaves — a mix of expert interviews, case studies and clinical narratives — has helped in tangible ways as a medical practitioner.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was preparing an episode on vision loss and the very next day in clinic I was able to make a diagnosis of a posterior ischemic neuropathy — a rare condition I might never have considered if had not just produced that segment,” Siegler said.

Podcasts are also fostering deeper collaboration among medical specialists. In 40 episodes of BrainWaves, for instance, Siegler has worked with at least as many professionals to help put together the most compelling presentation for listeners. He says accessibility, making the show inviting and fun, is the key to finding the right blend of information and context.

“Podcasts are just the next step in the natural progression of digital learning. Even with the ability to read journals on a tablet or laptop, podcasts give you extra freedom," Siegler said. "It’s much more convenient to listen to something for 10-15 minutes than to try and read through a journal, whether it’s on paper or digital."

Medical students can learn about some of the top podcasts in their field from the Doctor Student Doctor Network, The Right Fit and MedPod101