U of A teaching initiative goes viral

(Edmonton) When Jonathan White came up with the idea to do surgery podcasts for University of Alberta medical students, he never imagined it would take off worldwide.

The idea was to record and post podcasts to give undergraduate medical education students a basic understanding of specific surgical processes. He wanted them to be easily accessible to students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry so he put them on iTunes for free as “Surgery 101.”

“I think, over the first year, we had approximately 95 or 100 students out of the 120 downloading the podcasts,” said White, the director of undergraduate surgical education in the faculty. Something that surprised him, though, was how many non-student downloads were occurring. 

After a year they had about 25,000 downloads and were finished their first 10 episodes. They decided to keep recording them and, two-and-a-half years in, they’ve really picked up steam.

“At 11 p.m. on Feb. 11 we surpassed the 100,000 [downloads] mark,” recalls White.

They are now averaging between 400 and 600 downloads a day from 100 countries worldwide, including Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, with the biggest numbers coming from North America.  

“We’ve done no promotion,” said White who admits he’s shocked by this popularity. “We did a few workshops nationally and went down to Salt Lake City for a conference and gave a few talks on how to make a podcast.”

Just a couple of months ago, White and his resident, who helped get things off the ground, expanded beyond general surgery topics. They set up a mobile podcasting team that visits the offices of faculty colleagues and helps them record a 10-minute podcast on various specialities, such as heart bypass surgery.

“We got such a big response that we had enough material to produce one a week for six months,” said White. “Since late October we’ve been publishing every single Friday.”

And they show no sign of slowing down, says White.

“For now it’s been very content-based,” said White. “We’re about to get an orthopaedic surgeon to do one and we haven’t had any in thoracic or vascular surgery. I also want to get more residents involved even for things like ‘why would you want to consider being a surgeon?’ or ‘what is it like to have a night on call?’”