Podcast gives glimpse into innovative minds in medicine

When Ryan O’Keefe got the OK to create a podcast under the student group Penn HealthX, he ran with it. A year later, the second-year Penn medical student has built up an impressive collection of nearly 20 episodes, featuring interviews with some of the University’s greatest minds in medicine.

His goal? To produce content catered to budding medical students interested in business and innovation. In other words, O’Keefe says, the podcast is aimed at “our future health care leaders.”

That isn’t to say the conversations are always technical.

“They are light enough that anyone can enjoy them,” he says.

A recent episode featured a 90-minute interview with Arthur Rubenstein, who’s internationally known for his research achievements in endocrinology and diabetes. The former dean of the Perelman School of Medicine and executive vice president of the Health System in the early 2000s not only talked about his work, but also interesting tidbits about his personal life, such as growing up in South Africa and why he decided to move to the U.S.

“I was able to pull back the curtain a bit on a very important man in Penn Medicine’s history,” says O’Keefe.

O’Keefe took on the podcast project—something he’s secretly wished to do for years—with no more than an old microphone from his theater days in hand, and, of course, a curious mind. A natural on air, O’Keefe says he learned his interview techniques through listening to “podcast after podcast.” To record and edit the interviews, he uses Audacity, a free, open source, cross-platform audio software.

“At first, I literally Googled ‘How to start a podcast,’” he says with a laugh. For his first episode, he plopped the microphone down in front of David Fajgenbaum and “hoped for the best.”

Joking aside, O’Keefe says he credits that first interview with Fajgenbaum, an assistant professor at Penn Medicine and co-founder of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network, as a real confidence booster.

“It really was such a great interview, mostly because of him,” he says. “It gave me assurance that I should keep going.”

Other episodes include talks with Nora Becker, a graduate of Wharton’s Department of Health Care Management, who discussed the Affordable Care Act, women’s health, and contraceptives; the Penn student founders of Spectrum Scores, who focused on LGBTQ+ health issues and creating a startup in medical school; and Eric Heil, a Penn alumnus and co-founder of the medical technology company RightCare Solutions, who talked about systems engineering and reducing readmissions in hospitals. Another recent episode features Patrick Brennan, who discusses his role as chief medical officer of the Health System, as well as coaching in health care.

Next up, O’Keefe says, is Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor at Penn Medicine who has been leading “artificial womb” research and raising hopes for premature babies.

The Penn HealthX Podcast can be found on SoundCloud as well as on iTunes. O’Keefe hopes Penn HealthX will continue releasing episodes on a regular basis in the future. As he tackles his first clinical year, a new crew of Penn students will take on the podcast’s responsibilities, but O’Keefe says he’ll stay involved.

“It’s been so fun,” he says. “I’ve been hoping to have a lot of these conversations anyway, so it’s even better that I can do that and then also share it with others. It’s all about inspiring a new generation.”

Penn HealthX podcast