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Surgery podcasts go viral

Learn the basics of a medical condition through an audio recording.

BY TARA SIEBARTH | JUN 13 2011

What started as a simple study aid for Professor Jonathan White’s medical students – a series of podcasts on basic surgical concepts – has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. His Surgery 101 podcasts now average about 1,000 downloads a day, or roughly one every two minutes, from around the globe.

Dr. White, an assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of Alberta, recorded the first nine episodes of Surgery 101 with his senior resident Parveen Boora in 2008. Each podcast is meant to answer basic questions that students may have on a given topic and is designed to be used in conjunction with their class notes and textbooks. For example, in episode 13, Dr. White talks about acute pancreatitis, telling students what symptoms to look for in a patient, the causes, and how to manage the condition. “But it’s important to note that these are meant as just a starter. You will not know how to perform a surgery after listening to a 20-minute podcast,” he says.

Dr. White posted the first few episodes online and then promptly forgot about them. When he received an e-mail from Australia asking about future episodes, he decided to check the stats: he was getting 50 downloads a day, with no marketing or advertising. Dr. White says he doesn’t know how people are finding the podcasts, but they are.

It was then that he decided to expand the operation by asking other professors on cam-pus to record episodes on topics that they specialize in. The response was overwhelming and he now has a three-month backlog of episodes. The weekly podcasts, which have reached over 160,000 downloads, are available for free on iTunes and on the Surgery 101 website.

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