Podcasts are all the rage these days, and it is not surprising that some residents spend more time with podcasts than any other educational resource.​1–3​ But why? And how do podcasts fit with other forms of learning, like lectures, textbooks, and clinical teaching?

In our recent article published in Academic Medicine, we explored these questions. Using qualitative interviews and analysis, we identified 3 overarching themes that shed light on residents’ podcast listening behaviors and the tensions with which listeners wrestled.​4​

opportunistic engagement in listening to podcasts

1. Opportunistic Engagement

Podcasts are entertaining, easily accessible, and can be listened to while doing other activities.

Residents found them more engaging and easier to absorb than other learning resources. They also liked the feeling of accomplishing 2 goals simultaneously, like learning and cleaning the kitchen.

Tension: Despite these draws, residents were concerned about struggling to maintain the attention needed to comprehend and remember the material. But like all trade-offs, is doing some learning in the car better than nothing?    

2. Community

Podcasts help create a sense of connection with local peers, faculty, and the professional medical community at large.

Like Oprah’s book club, podcasts provide a shared experience among residents across the world in which they feel connected to other listeners and the podcasts hosts. Podcasts also helped enrich local clinical conversations by providing residents with language and ideas that deepened conversations with faculty.

Tension: There were concerns that some faculty were averse to conversations about content heard on podcasts, making it difficult for residents to navigate the tensions between what they heard on an episode and what their local practice dictated.

3. Personalized Learning

Driven by a desire to feel productive, podcasts provide broad exposure to a discipline and opportunity for individual targeted learning.

The guilt of always needing to learn drove residents to transform the interstitial spaces of their days into learning time. For early trainees, podcasts provided broad exposure that turned unknown unknowns into known unknowns. More advanced residents used podcasts for more targeted learning to fill knowledge gaps.  

Tension: Though residents appreciated being exposed to new material, they recognized the difficulty in retaining and translating information into their clinical work. And those difficulties did not always lead to consistent action plans for resolving confusion.


Three domains on why residents listen to educational podcasts

Despite the challenges of distracted listening and difficulties translating their learning into clinical practice, residents see podcasts as an accessible and engaging learning platform that offers them broad exposure to core content and personalized learning while also fostering their sense of connection to local and national professional communities.

Read more about podcasts in our How I Podcast Smarter series.


  1. 1.
    Riddell J, Swaminathan A, Lee M, Mohamed A, Rogers R, Rezaie S. A Survey of Emergency Medicine Residents’ Use of Educational Podcasts. West J Emerg Med. 2017;18(2):229-234. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28210357.
  2. 2.
    Mallin M, Schlein S, Doctor S, Stroud S, Dawson M, Fix M. A survey of the current utilization of asynchronous education among emergency medicine residents in the United States. Acad Med. 2014;89(4):598-601. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24556776.
  3. 3.
    Purdy E, Thoma B, Bednarczyk J, Migneault D, Sherbino J. The use of free online educational resources by Canadian emergency medicine residents and program directors. CJEM. 2015;17(2):101-106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25927253.
  4. 4.
    Riddell J, Robins L, Brown A, Sherbino J, Lin M, Ilgen J. Independent and Interwoven: A Qualitative Exploration of Residents’ Experiences with Educational Podcasts. Acad Med. September 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31517682.
Jeff Riddell, MD

Jeff Riddell, MD

Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine
Co-Director, Medical Education Fellowship
LA County + USC Emergency Medicine Residency, Department of Emergency Medicine
Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California