Peer to peer and on demand

UAlberta medical student PedsCases podcast helps learners around the globe

Alison Dotinga - 24 October 2017

What started as a student project in the University of Alberta's Department of Pediatrics has proven to be an invaluable educational tool around the world.

In 2008, UAlberta medical students Peter Gill and Lauren Kitney approached faculty members about the idea of developing easy-to-access learning materials to help supplement core pediatric content in the undergraduate curriculum.

The project evolved into PedsCases, an educational website comprised of a variety of tools including podcasts, complimentary videos, quizzes and case studies for learners and educators alike. There are now more than 100 podcast episodes, available for free on iTunes. By the fall of 2017, the podcasts have been downloaded more than one and half million times and viewed in nearly every country in the world.

Student projects rarely reach these kinds of milestones, and when Gill and Kitney first brought the idea to Melanie Lewis―then the pediatric clerkship director, currently associate dean, learner advocacy and wellness―she admits she was concerned about its longevity.

"The issue with these endeavours that start as a student's vision is that they're often difficult to maintain momentum once those students are gone," said Lewis. "We were lucky to have Peter at the helm because he is a man who is committed, who had an incredible vision for PedsCases."

Faculty members Lewis and Karen Forbes, the current pediatric clerkship director, provide sustainability for the project. They coordinate and orchestrate day-to-day moving pieces and ensure the content aligns with the Canadian Undergraduate Curriculum in Paediatrics, but the students run everything else from recording to sound editing and publishing. They also recruit two new members each year, the key to ensuring the project endures as students graduate.

"It's been incredible, because this system made us able to build a team that spans from first-year students all the way through to residents, and members that have moved on both here and elsewhere," said Forbes. PedsCases alumni also continue to advocate for the project in other cities, resulting in new interest from students far away.

"There are also a number of students from other universities who not only view the podcasts but now contribute to them, which is unexpected and very exciting," said Forbes. "I've had several students from the United States contact me, asking me if they can participate. So from its little grassroots beginning, Pedscases has become much larger than we had imagined."

Gill '14 MD and Kitney '10 MD, have since gone on to residencies at the Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto and elsewhere. Gill continues to be a very active PedsCases team member―a fact that reflects PedsCases core values.

"I think the way the team has grown ensures that there is background leadership, but also there's a whole group of other students who are contributing integrally," said Lewis. "We've maintained the initial vision that PedsCases has always had―it's about peers helping peers."

This story was originally published in the University of Alberta Department of Pediatrics 2016-2017 Year in Review, Working Wonders.