For first generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students, navigating school can often be an internal struggle. While all students in higher education overcome some form of isolation and imposter syndrome, FGLI students, particularly those in medical school, are often tasked to do so without structures, strategy, or a clear understanding of the sources of their alienation.
Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) students have created a podcast to amplify voices of the FGLI medical school community.
The podcast, titled “Med Legs,” incorporates firsthand accounts into a range of FGLI topics, including success stories, advice related to applying and adjusting to medical school, resources and programs available to FGLI students, and how to build a network and brand.
“As FGLI students in medicine, we may not know what’s going on,” said Cecilia Zhou, a co-host of “Med Legs” with fellow third-year student Michaela Hitchner. “There’s no one to give us all of the insights. We have a chance to share the insights we’ve found over time with younger students who want to be in medicine.”
The “Med Legs” crew met through the Penn Med FGLI group at PSOM, but meetings came to a halt at the start of the pandemic as the curriculum shifted to an online setting. During this time, Hitchner began listening to health-related and medical school-focused podcasts. As she listened, she found that none of the podcasts focused on FGLI student experiences. This sparked the idea to create her own podcast on the topic. After offering the idea to the FGLI group, Zhou and another student expressed interest in joining the show. From there, the planning process began for their first episode.
The First Episodes
Since they couldn’t meet in person due to COVID-19 safety measures, they met on Zoom and recorded their conversation there. They later edited the audio and uploaded the first episode to Apple Podcast and Spotify Podcast. While the “Med Legs” team created two shows on their own, they wanted to improve the sound and quality of the podcast for future episodes, which began their search for a producer.
The crew initially reached out to several PSOM students who had previously worked on podcasts, asking for advice and recommendations for editors.
“It put my networking skills to the test,” Hitchner said. “I was cold emailing people at first to find those that have done podcasts before, seeing if they had any tips to get ’Med Legs’ off the ground.”
During that time, Zhou connected with her former college professor at Haverford College, mentioning the start of “Med Legs” and the group’s interest in learning the technical details of creating a podcast. To her surprise, Zhou’s professor shared that her partner, Jon Pfeffer, was a podcast producer, who coincidentally had a FGLI background — and made the introduction. Pfeffer then mixed and sound-designed the show, and helped the “Med Legs” team engineer their own recordings. He also worked with the “Med Legs” team to a create a more efficient production workflow, refine show structures, develop ideas for guests, and coach the hosts.
“You’re presenting your personality in a certain format,” Zhou said. “There’s a performance piece to how you should speak for a podcast, which was interesting to learn as we created more episodes.”
The Impact on Listeners
Since its launch on June 25, 2020, “Med Legs” has produced eight episodes, and each one has had a profound impact on the listeners and hosts alike.
“I forget that we’re making an episode because they end up just being engaging conversations where I get to know more about Cecilia and our guests who have had similar experiences to me,” Hitchner said.
“It’s also fun for listeners because it’s like they’re joining in on our conversation,” Zhou said. “It’s a real-time perspective of what medical students are going through at the moment.”
The crew even received an email from a listener, sharing how the podcast made them emotional because FGLI-related topics were rarely discussed as they grew up. It originally made them feel ashamed and uncomfortable to speak about the subject with others, but listening to the insights shared on “Med Legs” gave them a sense of community.
The Future of “Med Legs”
Due to classes, clerkships, and other responsibilities, the “Med Legs” co-hosts recently put their ninth episode on pause, but they plan to resume the “Med Legs” release schedule.
Along with the standard podcast format, the “Med Legs” crew wants to tap more into their creative sides, learning how to engage with listeners in different formats, like creating video blogs or using Instagram Live to show a day in the life of a medical student, in addition to posting more consistently on their social media channels.
“Medicine doesn’t have to be your whole life and your whole identity in medical school,” Zhou said. “It’s important to do something creative and have a getaway from the studying and being in clinics.”
“I definitely recommend doing something creative in medical school,” Hitchner said. “Finding a passion project that you can spearhead on your own is a really good experience.”