UnsCripted podcast breaking new ground in medical education

Podcast by and for UC medical students supplies additional near-peer mentoring

One impact of the coronavirus pandemic on medical students was a reduction in the amount of peer-to-peer mentoring they received. Students were not together as often with their classes offered virtually and the opportunity to receive guidance and tips, especially from more senior medical students, was often lacking. Fortunately, UC College of Medicine students were able to fill the void with a podcast that students started in 2019.

The podcast is called UnsCripted and is beginning its third season. It is one of the few podcasts produced by medical students.

unscripted logo

Essentially a casual conversation between a host or co-hosts and a guest, the discussions are between six and 85 minutes and focus on living and learning at the College of Medicine. The first episode of UnsCripted, which is available online, was published in January 2019. Since then 68 episodes have been produced with subjects ranging from what to do the summer before your first year in medical school (episode 31) to preparing for a career in academic medicine (episode 45), among many other topics.

Matthew Orischak, Class of 2024, and the newest member of the UnsCripted team, says that entering medical school during the pandemic reduced his ability to interact with many of his classmates. A fellow student suggested he listen to the podcast and he found it provided much-needed advice and conversation from upper classmen. 

portrait of Matthew Orischak

Matthew Orischak

“As I listened to more and more episodes, I realized this was something that could combine my passion for teaching with a creative outlet. I emailed the podcast team in December and have been loving it ever since,” he says.

“I truly believe that the past 18 months have felt a little less isolated and lonely, especially for our first- and second-year students, because they have been able to hear from classmates and peer mentors on UnsCripted,” adds Jeffrey Schlaudecker, MD, Kautz Family Endowed Chair of Geriatric Medical Education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, who has served as a faculty advisor to the project since 2019.

Four medical students, Madison Epperson, MD, Class of 2020, and Kevin Milligan, MD, Robert Daulton, MD, and Zachary St Clair, MD, all in the Class of 2021, came up with the idea for the podcast in the summer of 2018. The students believed there was a need for additional near-peer mentoring in the College of Medicine community. Medical students frequently seek informal advice from more experienced senior peers, and students have an affinity for near-peer advice and mentoring resulting from the collegiality of their relationships with senior medical students, they write in a paper about UnsCripted that was just published in the July-September issue of JMIR Medical Education. The founding students thought a podcast would be a novel approach to provide additional near-peer mentoring.

And fellow medical students seem to like it.

portrait of Rachel Holloway

Rachel Holloway

“So far, preliminary data shows that students have had a really positive reaction to our podcast,” says Rachel Holloway, Class of 2023, and another co-author on the JMIR Medical Education paper. “They not only find it enjoyable, but also helpful when preparing for blocks and rotations. Data aside, I personally have had classmates reach out or run into me in the hallways and express their enjoyment of the episodes. Moments like these make all of the work worth it.”

Holloway became involved in the podcast after hearing a presentation about UnsCripted during her first week of medical school. A self-professed “hardcore podcast junkie,” Holloway says she always has a podcast playing whenever she is driving, walking, running or doing small tasks around her house. Her tastes vary from news and education to medical and comedy, although her guilty pleasure is a Harry Potter podcast. She has now hosted 21 episodes.

UnsCripted has welcomed 70 different guests, including medical students, residents, physicians, nurses, physicians’ family members, graduate medical education leaders and educators.

“I honestly feel that on the podcast I am the one being mentored by all the guests we have on the show,” Orischak says. “Being able to talk to people with such interesting viewpoints and life experiences is extremely rewarding and helps me shape my focus of the type of doctor I want to be.”

portrait of Alex Gillotte

Alex Gillotte

Another current host, Alex Gillotte, Class of 2023, says she enjoys hearing conversations with physicians “that aren’t seen in a textbook.” She has hosted or co-hosted about 15 episodes including several that have been recorded for the third season. Upcoming topics include social determinants of health, LGBTQ+ care, microaggressions and racism and preventative care and nutrition.

Holloway says that UnsCripted provides an extremely unique opportunity to connect facets of medicine that otherwise do not overlap. Many of the topics are ones that the students may not typically encounter during their coursework, such as grief in medicine and physician burnout.

“These are essential, thought-provoking topics for students to engage with, and we are honored to be a platform through which that can happen,” she says.

portrait of Mason Yoder

Mason Yoder

Mason Yoder, Class of 2022, has hosted or co-hosted six episodes. After listening to podcasts for the last six years, he decided to get involved to fulfill his desire to host a podcast.

“I think students appreciate the insider’s look that this podcast offers about preparing for courses and clerkships, as well as guidance we give about planning ahead for major events, such as boards preparation, residency application and medical school schedules,” Yoder says.

“The students at UnsCripted have created something truly incredible that benefits our entire UC CoM student body. Peer to peer advising that can be accessed on the students’ own schedule is an incredible innovation,” Schlaudecker adds. “The podcasting platform has enabled them to create some really amazing content. Students now can enter pre-clinical course work with a better sense of on what to focus, and can hear from peers about how to get the most out of their clinical rotations. They’ve also created some amazing content on residency applications.”

Finding time to record and produce a podcast while in medical school can sometimes be a challenge, but the podcasters all agreed that it is valuable not only for their listeners, but also for themselves. They even want to continue podcasting after completing medical school.

“I’ve gained both insight and mentoring through being a part of this podcast and interviewing experts in their field,” Gillotte says. “I also think I have also gained my voice and pursued interests that I don't think I would have had the opportunity to do outside of the UnsCripted Medicine podcast.”

“I definitely will continue podcasting during my future residency and beyond,” Yoder says. “I love this work so much and I think that this platform has an amazing potential to benefit medical education and personal wellness. I also hope to reappear as a guest on the UnsCripted podcast from time to time, but I’m happy that we’ve made this a generational, medical student-run podcast.”

Gillotte also would like to continue podcasting and sees it as a way of continuing to be involved in medical education. She points to the ability to easily reach large audiences and the possibility of helping students and her patients.

“My dream would be to one day make episodes that both my patients and students could listen to for helpful medical education information. The autonomy over one's own health and the confidence it could bring to both groups is exciting,” she says.

In their JMIR Medical Education paper, the authors suggest that medical schools support student podcast initiatives to allow for near-peer mentoring, augment the community, facilitate professional identity formation and prepare the rising physician workforce for the technological frontier of medical education and practice.

“As medical education transitions from print formats to digital formats, medical student–run podcasts represent novel tools for supporting medical students, leading the student community into the future of medicine, and fostering professional identity formation. Podcasts are widely accessible and convenient for listeners, and podcast creators can publish content with lower barriers of entry compared to those of other forms of published content. Although school-specific podcasts may exclude a national audience, they enhance the depth of the sense of community among local students, clinicians, and educators,” they write.

The podcasters welcome suggestions on topics to cover in future episodes. Email them at unscriptedmedicine@gmail.com and follow them on Twitter @UnsCripted_Med.

Featured image from Unsplash.