What’s in Your iTunes? Podcasts for the Medically Minded

Whether your goal is education or entertainment, there is likely a medically oriented podcast out there you will enjoy. I’ve included here a sampling of the ones I found most useful or enjoyable, grouped by type. The first are geared towards the present task at hand – surviving medical school in general, clerkships in particular. The second group can help you learn more about your future specialties of interest. The last section takes a broader look at the world of medicine, tackling issues from recent scientific breakthroughs to medical ethics – those topics you feel you should be keeping up on, but who has the time? If you have other podcasts you have found helpful or insightful, please share them via the comments link at the bottom.

For Now

When you’ve already spent hours studying and just cannot look through your class notes one more time, podcasts can be a great way to get the knowledge you need in a different format. These podcasts can also be helpful by covering a topic in a slightly different way than was done at your medical school, which can be useful when you are trying to piece together a new concept.

EM Basic: Dr. Steve Carroll produces this series of 30 minute podcasts geared towards medical students and EM interns. Even if you’re thinking, I have no interest in EM – I hear sirens and run the other way, these podcasts are helpful throughout your clerkships as they cover basic medical topics ranging from arthritis and anaphylaxis to syncope and sepsis. The overviews are focused but thorough and include helpful mnemonics and case examples. I can see using his podcasts the evening after admitting a new patient to ensure I’ve covered the main teaching points and am ready for pimping on rounds the next morning. He also produces episodes that focus on recent or historically important studies as they relate to clinical practice. Not only are the podcasts excellent, but he includes “show notes” for each – an outline of the highlights of the podcast – which can provide a quick review of the salient information.

Surgery 101: I started my clerkships with surgery and still remember the director telling us all we should be reading three hours a day to study. After rising in the pre-dawn darkness, spending the next 12 plus hours on my feet, and finally dragging myself home at night, sitting down with a good ol’ copy of NMS surgery for three hours seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. I found listening to podcasts a way to cram a little more studying while I was doing the dishes, washing clothes and just trying to catch up with life outside the OR. Surgery 101 offers relatively short podcasts that give an introduction to just about any surgical topic you might be interested in; they have 116 episodes in iTunes and continue to produce more. Episodes emphasize key points students should be aware and, for those willing to pay $4.99 a year, show notes are also available.

PedsCases: I hesitated to include this one because the last podcast was dated from January of 2013, but I found the topics covered helpful during my peds rotation and the website promises new podcasts are in the works to add to the 26 they currently have. The subjects are very bread-and-butter pediatrics (evaluation of a limp, seizures, failure to thrive, etc) which are just the kind of things medical students are expected to be familiar with. Podcasts combine information you need to know for rounds with practical advice; for example, an episode on pediatric murmurs described not just evaluation and types of murmurs but also tips for explaining benign murmurs to parents. In addition, because it’s audio, the episode included actual murmur sounds.

Student BMJ: Student BMJ is an international medical journal that focuses specifically on topics of interest to medical students. The podcasts are a combination of educational (i.e. walking through case studies for example), recent medical news including new studies or controversies, and career advice. A recent podcast details a case of a patient with shortness of breath, going through the history and physical, discussing a differential and testing, detailing the test results and covering treatment. This particular example was presented as a conversation between a medical student and physician. It felt like case discussions I had during my clerkships without the underlying fear of being pimped. The discussion was thorough without getting bogged down in minutiae. The podcasts are largely based in the UK, but still relevant for those of us on the other side of the pond.

For Your Future

Interested in anesthesiology? Medicine? Psychiatry? Rheumatology? Radiology? Basically every specialty has at least one podcast produced by the major journal covering that field. Listening on occasion can keep you informed about new advances in the specialty as well as help gauge your interest as a potential future career. Admittedly, some of these are extraordinarily dull – you really have to be motivated to continue to pay attention. I subscribed to the NEJM podcast during my medicine clerkship with the best of intentions, only to find the monotony of a person essentially reading abstracts too painful to bear. It’s worth shopping around for a bit for the most palatable option.

For Fun

You likely went to medical school at least partly because you were interested in biomedical science or ethics or public health or any number of other topics that you now barely remember from the trenches of your third year clerkships. Here are a few podcasts which are unlikely to gain you extra points on your shelf exams, but may help you remember why you went into this profession in the first place, or at least give you some food for thought.

Second Opinion: These short (less than five minute) podcasts created by Dr. Michael Wilkes, professor and vice dean of medical education at UC Davis, focus on topical issues in medicine, with an emphasis on the ethical implications. Some of the episodes offer one physician’s viewpoint on issues commonly discussed in mass media – gun violence or sex education for instance – while others are off the beaten path – animal products in medications or the “One Health” movement from the perspective of a veterinarian using these principles to protect mountain gorillas.

Medical Discovery News: Dr. Norbert Herzog and Dr. David Niesel put together this weekly short podcast with each episode going over a new discovery in biomedical science. This is admittedly written at a lay-population level; if you are actually interested, you will want to track down the original research. That said, their explanations are clear and they cover a broad range of topics. Recent podcasts included advancements in testing for Down Syndrome, growing organs, and treating hepatitis C. At only two minutes each, it’s enough to whet your appetite for medical research with a taste of advancements being made.

White Coat Black Art: Host Dr. Brian Goldman is a Canadian-based ER physician who produces a regular podcast on a wide swath of medical issues. While again written for a general audience and unlikely to give you answers for your next exam, I find it helped remind me about the interesting and controversial aspects of medicine that inspired me to follow this career path to begin with. His focus tends to be on the larger issues, like the culture of medicine, various aspects of the healthcare system, and medical ethics.

Good luck and happy listening!

Megan Riddle

Megan Riddle, MD PhD, is a psychiatry resident at the University of Washington. She is a graduate of the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program.

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