Below is an interview between the host of Surviving Medicine and Doximity, followed by a brief overview of the podcast.
Doximity: How did the Surviving Medicine Podcast first get started? How has it grown since its launch?
Frank Cusimano: In medical school, my group of friends and I had realized there was an unmet need, not only amongst pre-med students but also medical students and residents, due to the fact that medical education is a difficult process. In most cases when a student is struggling or feeling overwhelmed or burdened with the amount of work that they have to do, typically the same problems arise: anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and then they start to compare themselves to their peers. A common theme that we realized was that everyone always gave the impression that they were always ‘100 percent’ — that they never had a bad day, that everything was perfect, and that they loved being pre-med or medical school in general.
No one wanted to show that they had weaknesses. In a medical school environment, we were seeing that students weren’t willing to seek help or admit they were struggling to get through the medical education process.
We realized there were physicians who have gone through the medical education process before us and have likely felt as we have in this position, and thought maybe they would be willing to talk about it. Maybe they would be willing to open up their minds and be vulnerable and say, ‘I went through it and struggled, and sure everyone around tried to put up a front that they were ok when it was a difficult process.’
That’s where the podcast all started: from the idea that we wanted to provide a resource and outlet where trainees, pre-med, medical students, residents, etc. could look to someone who has been in their shoes and say, ‘Hey, I struggled when I was in your position, but look where I am now. These are the things that I’ve been doing and this is why I’m excited to be a physician. This is why I treat patients and this is where the future of medicine is going.’ Together, we can be a little more collaborative and open about the difficulties of the medical education process.
Who makes up your audience?
Cusimano: The majority of our audience is actually medical students — we get a good number of pre-med students and residents too. When we get popular physicians from specific schools, we get a fair amount of physicians that will tune in to listen.
How are featured guests selected for the podcast?
Cusimano: Our listeners provide us with a lot of requests. We as a team also keep a running list of our own must-feature guests for the podcast. This can include anyone from ‘famous physicians’, to physicians we know personally that we think really exemplify what it means to be a physician, to maybe people that have never really had a voice but are still doing amazing work in health care.
What are some recent episodes that were popular among listeners?
Cusimano: Our listeners said that they got a lot from our episode with Dr. Mike Nader, a medical graphics illustrator who is entering a second-year residency in Internal Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. We had a dialogue about what it’s like to be a resident and a patient since he is a type I diabetic and medical illustrator. He was speaking from the perspective of ‘I’m a patient first, then a physician,’ and I think that really resonated with a lot of our medical students and residents.
Another episode that resonated is with Dr. Mike Flaherty. He doesn’t practice medicine anymore, but he used to be one of the medical producers on The Dr. Oz Show. He got to explain how he saw medicine in a larger light — public education and other complex medical topics — while producing different episodes of The Dr. Oz Show.
The Surviving Medicine Instagram account (@surviving.medicine) now has upwards of 39,400 followers. Who is managing that account and what kinds of posts can be seen there?
Cusimano: I make the majority of the posts and two interns help to manage the account by commenting back and answering questions. They find a lot of images, while I come up with a majority of the quotes. The idea behind the Surviving Medicine Instagram account is that we will always be uplifting and motivating. We are never going to sugarcoat anything, but we also won’t ever put any physicians down. We’re never going to reprimand any physicians, we’re never going to laugh at any younger doctors or pre-med students. We want to be 100 percent as inclusive as possible.
We published a photo the other day that did well: that of a physician who was tired with a quote that read, “On long days, you have to focus on why you started.” That resonates with our audience because we’re not saying that every day is going to be easy. We’re not saying that medicine is always 100 percent. But on long days, there is a way to get through it.
This podcast is good for those who are interested in: critical reviews of the medical education process
Typical length of episodes: About 1 hour
How often a new episode comes out: Once a week
Episode topics: medical school exams, mental health, clinician wellness, mentorship, motivation, arts & humanities, travel
Sample episode — “#060: How to re-evaluate your life with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz": This episode features Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a practicing gastroenterologist, prolific podcast guest, and microbiome and gut health expert. He went from a path in clinical investigation and nutrition to Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology, and discusses the reasons behind his career switches.
Tidbit about the show: Surviving Medicine was launched in 2017. There are several "series" on the podcast website, including a series on physician burnout.
About the host: Frank Cusimano is a third-year medical student at the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine and a fourth-year PhD candidate at Columbia University studying the role of the gut microbiome. He has a passion for anything related to medicine, health, fitness, wellness, medical education and health care. To learn more about the host and the podcast, read an exclusive interview below.
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Illustration by Wendy Gu