Podcasting was already the ‘new black’ in a media saturated world, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated medical educators’ interest in putting themselves in front of a microphone. Who doesn’t want to be Malcolm Gladwell or Radiolab? This trend is not necessarily a good thing – this message to all Australians suggests we think twice before trying to sound proof the home office. (profanity alert! )
In theory podcasts are a good way to efficiently deliver asynchronous educational messages, trainees enjoy thinking they are multi-tasking and driving their own learning, and podcasts can foster virtual communities of practice in health professions education or specific areas like simulation.
While there is nothing so practical as a good theory, where do we actually start in practice? This blog is a short primer for those with a podcast attention span.
First ask ‘why’?
A formal or informal mission statement is probably a good idea. Simple narcissism won’t be enough to sustain a consistent high-quality output that is worth the hosting fees and technical outlays. This clarity can then guide decisions about scope, format and method.
A discussion based podcast with a highly engaging host and wide social media reach (e.g. Explore the Space) can afford to have a range of interests and guests. However, if you are replacing your face to face morbidity and mortality meetings with a discussion of real cases, then there will need to be careful attention to distribution channels and privacy protections. A podcast with a mostly clinical focus will face considerable competition for listeners time, especially in emergency medicine.
One important design choice is whether your content is more ‘online encyclopedia’ i.e. repository of content, or ‘online newspaper’, reporting on latest articles/ news/ updates (e.g., the KeyLIME podcast).
Consider who you’d like to work with. Although there are notable exceptions, most sustained podcasts have a group of producers.
There is a wealth of expertise available on the technical aspects of planning, recording, editing and distributing podcasts – including courses like podcast CAMP , podschool and more. Amazon has a bewildering array of options, so get good advice and don’t spend too much to begin with.
Planning podcast content calls for discipline – ‘Record hard, edit easy’ (I wish I could follow my own advice here….) This involves a run sheet, though not necessarily a script, and is especially important if there are more than 2 voices in the episode. Extemporaneous speech without a framework often leads to questions that are longer than the answer they seek, ums, ahs and other verbal influencies or “overtalk” between the guests and host. Recording during a pandemic should be more often ‘remote’, rather than in person ( 2 people talking close up to a shared microphone is not COVID safe) and I’d suggest using Zencastr or squadcast for mitigating the effect of recording over an internet connection.
Money and/or friends in high places?
Hosting fees can be a few hundred dollars a year (whether Canadian, Australian or USD). ‘Official’ podcasts may have organisational support, but others may choose a sponsorship or advertising model.
Partnerships are a great idea – e.g. Resusroom podcast . Lots of health professional educational journals have their own podcasts, but others may be keen to outsource some of their social media work. This can enhance the credibility of your podcast, and widen the audience reach of the journal.
Things not to do?
Don’t just record a live lecture. The formats are different and should involve different processes.
Don’t steal copyright music and content. They will probably track you down.
Don’t violate patient privacy or be nasty. Microphones can be seductive, but once it’s out, it’s impossible to contain any fallout.
Don’t ruin your other commitments to work, family, social life.
Listen to your own podcasts. Listen to others. Listen to podcasts about podcasting. If you actually have a growth mindset – ask for feedback!
If someone from Radiolab calls to recruit you one day … tell them I taught you everything you know 😊
(Disclosure: Victoria is co-producer of Simulcast and the Harvard Macy Institute Podcast)
Acknowledgment to Jesse Spurr, Jessica Stokes-Parish and Ben Symon for their helpful feedback in reviewing this post
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