Four years ago, Dr. Dustyn Williams began posting FREE online videos of himself teaching medicine the way he thought it should have been taught in medical school at Tulane. (He believed med school “sucked” and spent hours creating the videos while working full-time as a practicing physician.) With viewer numbers growing steadily, his friend epidemiologist Jamie Fitch saw an opportunity to do even more. The result was OnlineMedEd, now grossing $5 million annually in its third year and expanding into other verticals.
Dr. Williams received his undergraduate degree at Yale University and then went to medical school at Tulane. Aside from running the website onlinemeded.org and making YouTube videos, he currently is on sabbatical, but works as a Hospitalist at Baton Rouge General, where he's the Clerkship Director for Tulane students in the LEAD curriculum, and Core Faculty for the Baton Rouge General Internal Medicine Residency Program.
However, regarding medical school, “I found it frustrating. As a medical student, there’s only so much time available with full-time clinic duties on top of learning, eating, etc., yet the school didn’t respect that. Instead, they attempted to teach me everything about everything, which was so much more than I really needed to know as a medical student. If I’m not specializing in OBGYN, don’t give me a fellowship expert-level lecture.
It’s an easy concept, but hard to accept in real life.” Therefore, he began to make free YouTube videos, because he believed that there had to be a better way to get across all the information needed to graduate from medical school. The goal was to create better doctors, and surely he did; the YouTube channel has over 36,000 subscribers, and the website now has over 100,000 users from 191 countries. One of the most popular topics among viewers is the antibiotic ladder.
Doing this project, naturally, comes with rewards besides the large paycheck. In Dr. Williams’ words, this celebrity status and being well-known makes him rather uncomfortable, but he thinks that it is worth it, because of all the people he has helped and because he thinks that medical school does not do an adequate job of teaching students what they need to know. His days are long- he works for 36 hours, and rests for only 12- but the work is worth it.
For example, check out this video from OnlineMedEd discussing how to do a Physical Exam: Pulmonary.
When asked what was one of the most touching stories he has received from a viewer about his impact on their career, Dr. Williams replied, “Michael Gardner is one of our featured stories on the site. His father, a dermatologist, noticed a lesion on his own skin. Suspicious for cancer, he sent it to a pathologist. It was read as benign. Michael’s father died of melanoma. It was Michael’s dream to never let that happen again. He left a lucrative career in real estate to join medical school. He aced his first two years. On track to dermatology. When he reached the clinical years, the switch didn’t flip. Terrified that he wouldn’t be able to follow in his father’s footsteps, he was faced with the reality that he might not be a dermatologist. After finding OnlineMedEd, he started performing. He attributes his success in the clinical sciences to OnlineMedEd. Without us, he would not have gotten a residency spot. Because of us, he was able to learn what he needed to learn and get the scores he needed. Today, Michael is a dermatologist.”
Dr. Williams also has advice for those who would like to do something similar, and teach people online.
1. Don’t just do it, do it right. The magic of an online video is that you have to do it well once. Because once you do it well, and put it online, it scales infinitely. It doesn’t have to be perfect (I get facts wrong, have brain farts, and the cuts in my editing are obvious) but it should be close to your best. To make it your best, see the next set.
2. Edit. Online teaching started with lecturers posting their live lectures for other to see. That’s great. Sharing is caring. But if the goal is to teach online, change your teaching practice to match. It takes me about 4 hours to plan the lecture on paper, practice at the board, record the video, then edit. It might be only a 20-minute video, but those 4 hours pay off huge.
3. Plan. I use a whiteboard because that’s the way I was trained to teach. But doing it that way forces you to think about what needs to be on the board. Powerpoints are for board meetings, not lectures. They allow you to put an infinite number of slides with an infinite number of words that don’t focus the learner. Remember that college course with 158 slides by 45 minutes? I plan on an 8.5x11 piece of paper. I move at a pace a learner can follow – they can take notes with me. And I only put on the board what is necessary to remember or to explain abstract concepts. If the whiteboard isn’t for you, then I suggest using a single powerpoint slide. No erasing, no changing, no flipping, simply add pieces of the slide as you progress.
4. Be visible. There’s pretty good research out there that shows that having a human visible increases memory and retention. Even if it’s just a hand doing one of those speed-motion videos, an 8.5 x 11 inch paper and a pen, or you at the board, being visible increases engagement (people pay attention), enhances retention, and makes the learner feel like you are teaching them.
5. Practice. OnlineMedEd is in its third iteration. I joke that there was a fire at google that housed the first videos’ cache. They were SO BAD my girlfriend, who was filming, fell asleep. The more you do it the better you get. It is nothing like being in front of an audience, using the students to move forward, drawing on their energy.”
On the website, it states that their mission is to “change how medical education is approached, how medical schools deliver it and how students learn it. We want you spending time using what you've learned to practice actual medicine. That's done by making learning easier, faster and more reliable. Learn everything you need and nothing you don't. And make it stick.”
If you are a medical student, maybe Dr. Williams’ videos and website can help you! Tell us please, if you also use YouTube for making money, especially if you are in a medical field. Please, write your comments in the commenting section below for discussion.
Disclosure: While Dr. William's PR company is one of eMaxHealth's occasional sponsors, the reporter had complete editorial freedom covering this story.