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“McMaster Demystifying Medicine” YouTube channel hits new milestone thanks to efforts of students, trainees, and faculty.

Students, trainees, and faculty members at Canada’s most research-intensive university have a new reason to celebrate – the McMaster Demystifying Medicine YouTube channel has surpassed 100,000 subscribers.

McMaster Demystifying Medicine is a seminar series that has spawned a YouTube channel and a fourth year undergraduate course at McMaster University. The channel contains a collection of well-researched videos and podcasts created by students, trainees, and researchers, directed towards those in university and medical settings, including students and faculty. Many videos are also suitable for high school students, and some are even created specifically for child audiences.

The channel aims to help increase understanding of how advances in biology can be applied to diseases, and to discuss frequently emerging scientific, medical, and ethical areas of interest. By linking science and medicine, the McMaster Demystifying Medicine team hopes to bridge the gaps between basic research, clinical care, and the patient experience, and to educate the general public.

Since its inception in 2013, the channel has grown immensely. At the time of writing, the channel has over 1,100 videos, over 31 million views worldwide, and over 114,000 subscribers. Its most popular videos include “Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Through my eyes,” with over 3 million views; “Depression: A Student’s Perspective,” with over 2 million views; and “Walk in My Shoes: ADHD,” with over 1 million views.

The YouTube channel was created by Kjetil Ask, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster and researcher at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, where he runs the Molecular Phenotyping and Imaging Core lab. While working at the National Institute of Health in Maryland, Ask attended the NIH Demystifying Medicine seminar series.

“I recognized the powerful impact of the NIH seminar series, which brought different and complementary perspectives to the audience, often including a clinical overview by a physician scientist, followed by a patient interview and then a presentation from a basic scientist on how to address the problems,” explained Ask.

When he returned to Hamilton in 2011, Ask implemented a McMaster version of the Demystifying Medicine seminar series. Shortly after, with the help of many talented undergraduate students, graduate trainees, faculty colleagues, and the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, a cross-disciplinary fourth year undergraduate course associated with the seminar series was born.  

In the course, students work in small teams to develop scientific communication and knowledge translation skills. Videos produced in the course feature a variety of topics across the fields of science, technology, and medicine and are often shared on the YouTube channel.

“This student driven course has evolved based on student needs – it’s is very different today than when it started, but the foundation has remained consistent,” said Ask. “What has become apparent in the course are the secondary soft skills that the students develop, which are so greatly needed for the lifelong learning that is required in today’s work force.”

Some of the McMaster Demystifying Medicine team members (left to right: Takuma Isshiki, Darren Bridgewater, Kjetil Ask, Anna Dvorkin-Gheva, Stacey Ritz)

These soft skills include teamwork, providing constructive feedback, learning from failure, the importance of creativity and risk-taking in academic contexts, building informative and structured presentations, conflict resolution, and many more. They can be applied broadly throughout students’ future career paths within and outside of the health sciences.

The overwhelming success of the McMaster Demystifying Medicine course comes from its students – the student driven nature of the course, the trainees associated with it, the growing number of dedicated facilitators, and its constant development.

“Based on internal discussions and requests in our YouTube comment sections, we have started to add curated captions in different languages,” noted Ask.

With each class containing up to 24 students, many of whom speak two or more languages, the channel is in a unique position to make their videos more accessible to different regions around the world. They recently began to include video captions in Arabic, French, Urdu, Sinhalese, and Norwegian.

The channel has also recently joined the YouTube Partner Program, which will allow further development. A new third year course called “Demystifying Research” will be offered in September 2022. Its overall aim is to offer young students a path towards research by creating educational videos that will demystify the research process, from basic technologies to experimental design, interpretations of data, and how to conduct systematic reviews.

In addition, an advanced class called “Demystifying Science – Advanced Knowledge Translation and Science Communication” will start in the Winter 2023 semester.

The team is also extending into the community by forming networks with local area high schools, including Hillfield Strathallan College. Working with graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and professors, biology students in grades ten and eleven will generate educational videos suitable for high school audiences.

Ultimately, these courses and initiatives are designed to provide pedagogical training for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and professors, allowing them to develop and implement teaching and leadership skills.

Ask hopes these skills will allow trainees to implement similar programs at other educational institutions as they progress in their careers, thereby encouraging further knowledge translation around the world.

The channel was recently given a commemorative plaque – a gift from YouTube congratulating the team on hitting this impressive milestone. Ask plans to display the plaque in the office of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program.

To learn more, visit the Demystifying Medicine channel and get subscribed today!

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