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Jane Braithwaite shows how to make the most of the world of podcasts at your disposal.

Our busy lives mean that we do not always have the time to sit down and enjoy listening to and watching the things we are interested in. Who among us is not guilty of recording and downloading TV programmes and never getting around to watching them? Perhaps this is the reason why, according to Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR), podcasts are now downloaded by more than 4.5m adults in the UK alone.

Podcasts can be neatly described as online radio broadcasts on demand, with the word ‘podcast’ itself being a combination of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’.

Users can subscribe to online channels and have episodes of their favourite podcasts – available as both audio and video broadcasts – automatically down­loaded to their devices, much like a subscription to a journal or magazine.

Of course, for many people, listening to a podcast is not a necessity but a pleasure, and a quick look at iTunes shows the huge number of podcasts classed as comedy or games and hobbies.

Well-known organisations such as the BBC offer a large library of programmes. Whether you are after drama, sport, politics or factual programmes, all tastes are catered for and the online homes of radio stations such as talkRADIO also hold archives of their popular programmes.

However, for a busy private medical practitioner, podcasts can be an opportunity to catch up on developments in their area of expertise or in healthcare in general, and even clock up some valuable hours for continuing professional development (CPD) requirements.

Continuing professional development

The GMC considers CPD to be any learning outside of undergraduate or postgraduate courses that supports doctors in improving and maintaining their performance, which includes both formal and informal learning.

So as well as being a way to update yourself on industry developments, podcasts can also be a valuable tool when it comes to education and CPD.

Many of the royal colleges recognise the importance of e-learning and also recognise the benefits of podcasts.

Several of these institutions publish regular free content for their members.

Some sources are also freely available to non-members – the Royal College of General Pract­itioners, the Royal College of Emer­gency Medicine, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, for example.

Their online libraries are extensive and of high quality. RCPsych, for instance, has an online library of over 100 peer-reviewed podcasts to support CPD on the go, providing a great source of information to help members improve their knowledge, hone new skills and keep up to date with new research.

Another example is the RCGP, which runs a programme that contributes to CPD: the Essential Knowledge Update programme.

Ideal for the busy GP, this programme’s podcast provides practitioners with a biannual update that focuses on the very latest updates in terms of regulations and information and provides GPs with support in terms of how to apply new knowledge in the clinical setting.

These podcasts usually feature the authors of the programmes modules, whose knowledge of the subject helps to provide a deeper level of expertise.

As well as being a great way to address the learning and development needs of a medical practitioner, these podcasts are a cost-effective source of learning.There are, of course, costs associated with society membership, so why not take advantage of all the sources these prestigious organisations have to offer?

Top talent

When the topic at hand is developments in healthcare and the podcast is being listened to with a view to being educated, it is imperative that the content is of high standard.

In addition to royal colleges, there are many high-profile organisations that produce podcasts; The Lancet, TED Talks, British Medical Association, the British Medical Journal and the New England Journal Medicine to name but a few.

These organisations can attract top talent and field experts, and can be an invaluable source of information for anyone in the healthcare industry, from medical students revising for exams to consultants looking to maintain their level of knowledge.

Utility, versatility, accessibility

So we have established that the information is available and the standard is high, but what other factors can be taken into account? Why are podcasts so popular and why are they particularly useful to medical professionals?

Research carried out in 2010 by Schreiber et al has suggested that although there does not seem to be a real difference in terms of information retention, face-to-face learning is preferred in relation to engaging with the expert/teacher. But podcasts have an undeniable benefit in terms of reinforcing learning and accessibility.

Other studies, such as Ruiz et al’s 2006 examination of e-learning in medical education, support this.Their findings indicate that satisfaction rates are higher for e-learning in comparison to traditional learning, with factors such as ease of access and use being a major factor.

In addition to this, research conducted by the investment intelligence firm Edison gives weight to the idea of ease of access being a key factor in utilising audio technologies. It suggests that a third of all podcasts are listened to while on the go when travelling or commuting, or when carrying out other activities.

So commuting is suddenly an opportunity to catch up on the latest developments in healthcare. Taking the dog for a walk can now double up as prime time to listen to that documentary on rare diseases that you missed last week.

Of course, for today’s busy private practitioner, this is where the true value of listening to educational podcasts lies. Whether it is a bite-sized update on data governance regulations or a lengthy debate on topical healthcare issues, taking in the information can easily be done at the same time as making dinner or a gym session.

And this is the beauty of the podcast: the fact that it can be accessed anytime and anywhere. And when this is considered alongside high-quality content, there really is no better way to maintain one’s knowledge in the context of a hectic and busy schedule.

How to get the best out of podcasts

    • Set achievable goals. What do you hope to achieve? If you are listening to educational podcasts with a view to building up CPD hours, make sure you document your learning in some way. You could try collecting evidence of your learning by producing written reflections, for example.
    • Stay motivated. Consider putting together a schedule; set aside a certain number of hours per week to help you achieve your goal.
    • Consider materials published by journals. Do you subscribe to any scientific magazines or journals? If so, check out their websites for any downloadable podcast content. In fact, these are often available free of charge to non-subscribers too
    • Choose your app. There are many apps available to download that help you manage your podcasts. Take a few minutes to browse through your device’s app store and see what is on offer
    • Seek out peer-reviewed content. If you are a member of a royal college, take advantage of their online libraries. The content, including podcasts, is usually peer-reviewed and free of charge to members
    • Download your programme ahead of schedule. Who needs technical difficulties when time is of the essence? Avoid the issues associated with unreliable internet connectivity by download­ing your favoured podcast ahead of time. You are then at liberty to listen without buffering, glitches or even a sudden change in your own schedule
    • Consolidate your learning. Take advantage of other materials and sources that help to consolidate your learning. Some sources offer other online materials that allow you to test your knowledge retention; an ideal way to self-assess. You could also discuss your findings with colleagues, either offline or in online discussion forums
    • Put your learning into practice. Think about how can you apply your new-found knowledge to your everyday work
    • Be proactive. Try to stay attentive, asking yourself questions as you listen. If you are listening to a live podcast, you might have the opportunity to engage directly with the host, but if you are listening offline, try making notes – even if it is a mental one
    • Enjoy! With so many podcasts out there to choose from, you really are spoilt for choice. If you find you are not engaged with a programme, seek out something new

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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