Resident E-Learning: Podcasting Makes the Rounds at USC Medical School

Like most medical residents, Paul Sucgang regularly puts in 80-hour weeks as a third-year resident at USC's Keck School of Medicine's family practice residency program in Los Angeles. It's all part of the postgraduate training that doctors go through before becoming practicing physicians, but it leaves little time for fiddling with computers.

That's why Sucgang said he's so pleased with the website he's created, without any HTML knowledge at all, and the weekly podcasts of physician "grand round" lectures that he's made available through the site. As an option, residents can subscribe to the podcasts via Apple's iTunes site to have the lectures automatically downloaded to their iPods each week.

Sucgang used Apple's iWeb program to create the site, and and now records and broadcasts the podcasts weekly using a simple, low-cost software product called ProfCast, from Humble Daisy.

The effort is purely volunteer, with low cost and simplicity as major drivers. ProfCast appealed to Sucgang because of its extremely low cost compared to comparable products. "We would never have been able to do this with our budget and our limited time without the use of ProfCast," Sucgang says.

Instead of faculty or staff, residents themselves at the school of medicine spearheaded an effort last year to find a way to record the grand round lectures, in which an experienced physician lectures the resident doctors on particular subjects. Residents wanted to find a way for doctors who couldn't make it to the lectures to "attend" after the fact. They tried video but found the quality poor and the file size too large. They also discovered that what was really of interest was the audio and slides; the video was unnecessary. "We weren't really watching the grand rounds for the video," Sucgang says. "We didn't [need to watch] who was talking; we wanted the information."

While recording podcasts is a fairly simple endeavor, adding slides from Microsoft PowerPoint--or Apple Keynote--makes things a bit more complex. Without software that records where the slides are presented during the audio lecture, someone must insert them into the podcast after the fact--a time-consuming effort.

When ProfCast is used to record a lecture, it marks where each slide occurs; when the recording is converted into a podcast, the slides are inserted automatically.

To record a lecture, Sucgang sets up the project's laptop, which is running ProfCast. The instructor, wearing a wireless microphone, starts ProfCast as well as PowerPoint or Keynote. Once the lecture is recorded, it takes Sucgang less than half an hour, using ProfCast, to convert the recording to the proper format and post it to iTunes and his web site. Residents can listen to the lecture and view the slides on an iPod, or on any Internet-connected computer with a speaker.

The total project cost has been about $1,200, Sucgang said: $900 for a notebook computer, a few hundred dollars for the website production tool and the site itself, and less than $40 for ProfCast.

One drawback, Sucgang said, is ProfCast's inability to handle videos. If an instructor plays a short video file during a lecture, ProfCast treats it like a slide, capturing just a single still image. On the other hand, Sucgang said, his website doesn't have room for extensive videos right now anyway.

Sucgang and his colleagues have now collected a library of 60 to 70 grand round lectures over the last year, all posted at the website. Sucgang said his goal is to hand the project over to another resident who will continue the program when he leaves. He's also hoping for some permanent funding, either from a foundation or from alumni, to keep the site and recordings going.
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