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Senior resident physician at Penn, James Siegler, continues to grow his successful podcast, BrainWaves.

Credit: Patrick Breitenbach

What first started as a personal audio-note collection to brush up on subjects in neurology throughout James Siegler's residency has grown at an “unexpected rate” and is now an educational podcast with more than 7,000 plays.

Siegler, a senior resident physician at Penn, is the voice and mind behind BrainWaves, a neurology podcast aimed towards medical professionals and students across the country.

After previously writing and reviewing for the medical journal Neurology, Siegler started talking to the journal's podcast producers. He wanted to meld the concept of a podcast with the colloquial setting that he and other residents try to create for students to review updates in the field of neurology.

“All of the available podcasts were affiliated with medical journals and were only … intended to instruct,” Siegler said. “I wanted something that could be delivered to the masses and to the trainee … who need this education on the go.”

Siegler described his podcast as “an alternative approach to medical education,” due to the accessibility and mobility of the podcast medium. According to Siegler, data in peer-reviewed journals show that students now listen to multimedia presentations as much as they read scholarly texts.

“You can listen to [a podcast] anywhere, any time. You don’t need to be carrying a textbook — you can download it,” Siegler said. “They’re short, so whether you’re at the gym or you’re cooking or you’re commuting, they’re easy to digest.”

The “portability and personalization” of the BrainWaves podcast is one of the reasons that Siegler’s co-resident, Joshua VanDerWerf, was so excited about Siegler’s pursuit of his podcast venture. As a father and husband, being able to utilize the commute from New Jersey to his residency is “huge,” and allows VanDerWerf to maximize both his study and family time.

“I think that in today’s generation and just in general people feel like they have less free time,” VanDerWerf said. “There’s this feeling of wasted time or lost time for people throughout the day, but [now] that can be the time that you learn something.”

VanDerWerf has been featured in one episode and will be a contributor on another episode being released later this month.

Ali Hamedani, another neurology co-resident and a neuro-ophthalmology specialist, was the subject of Siegler’s first podcast and has been a frequent contributor to BrainWaves. Hamedani became interested in the podcast as a teaching tool for medical students.

“Neurology is an especially fast growing field and it applies to every field of medicine,” Hamedani said. “There’s new things happening each year and so medicine is all about continuing to learn … Education is not just learning things once in medical school, but learning things over and over again.”

With his “eclectic range of topics,” Siegler has been able to draw a broad audience to his podcast. One episode, which is applicable to both medical professionals and “lay-persons” alike, features a fellow neurologist who is also a part-time photographer. The episode links neurological imaging and photography to patient care.

Both Hamedani and VanDerWerf praised Siegler for his contributions towards the innovation of the neurological and medical educational fields.

VanDerWerf spoke of Siegler’s “traditional” success in the medical community, mentioning that Siegler is known among their circle of residents for having his name in many publications and journals already. VanDerWerf added, “Jim is a guy who gets a lot of ideas on his own and puts a lot of effort into them … on his own time and money.”

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