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He sometimes records his
podcasts from his child’s
bedroom. But the words from
his Guts & Glory channel
have gone around the world
to reach the ears of medical
professionals in respected healthcare
institutions like Mayo Clinic and Johns
Hopkins Hospital in the US. For Dr Andrew
Ong, the podcasts he created to help his
students during the COVID-19 pandemic have
succeeded beyond his initial expectations.
“Our podcast listeners are only a third
Singaporeans. I think that one of the great
success stories of our podcast is how far it has
reached listeners around the world. It wasn’t
easy, a lot of work had to happen to get there,”
said Dr Ong, Consultant, Department ofGastroenterology and Hepatology, SingaporeGeneral Hospital (SGH).
The seeds of podcasting were sown
early. A self-confessed podcast geek, Dr Ong
listens to all kinds of podcasts while driving,
walking and doing other things. “It makes
my commute more informative. At the end
of a drive, I can say I’ve learned something,
I didn’t waste time as I drove,” he said.
Dr Ong toyed with the idea of starting a
podcast after he had been writing a weekly
blog for his students for two years. So when
he was approached by Dr Dillon Yeo,
Resident, SingHealth, to start one, the answer
was an easy “yes”. Another SingHealth
Resident, Dr Toh Ching Han, made up the
third member of the venture.
As the seasoned gastroenterologist,
Dr Ong was content expert, researching
topics, choosing “good” questions to
stimulate discussion, while Drs Yeo and Toh
worked on infographics and post-production
processing. “We also had to be very
aggressive in disseminating the information,”
said Dr Ong, who added that posting on
platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn
added traction in reaching a wider audience.
The channel began in mid-2021, built
purely on their interests in podcasting and
their impulse to ensure medical students
continue learning after lessons were
cancelled due to the pandemic. “We wanted
to deliver a product primarily to medical
students, so for every episode, we prepared show notes, references and infographics.
We wanted listeners to be able to follow our
conversation and have a product to take back
to study and learn,” he said.
That modest aspiration was quickly
exceeded as their channel found fans among
postgraduates, non-doctors and even
patients. With the power of the Internet, Guts
& Glory’s audience has expanded beyond
Singapore — 37 per cent of listeners are from
Singapore, 34 per cent from the US and
the rest from Australia, the UK, Malaysia,
Hong Kong, the Philippines and elsewhere.
Downloads average 600 per episode, with
some episodes reaching as high as 1,500; total
downloads is estimated at more than 15,000.
LinkedIn posts on the podcasts were viewed
around 3,000 times per post on average.
Sound quality, podcast venue and time
were some of the early problems the trio
faced. Another was continuity. From his
blogging experience, Dr Ong knew that they
would lose listeners if one of them took a
break and they stopped broadcasting for
a few weeks. “Listeners feel the emptiness
when the person posting suddenly goes on
leave,” he said. To avoid this, they built up a
bank of episodes by recording episodes backto-
back or more frequently.
As a sub-specialist in functional
gastrointestinal disorders, Dr Ong
unsurprisingly devoted the first season
to gastroenterology-related content. The
team has since included guests from SGH’s
endocrinology, infectious diseases, oncology
and respiratory medicine departments, and
even from the National University Hospital.
After 30 episodes, the team wants colleagues
to come on board the channel. “People are
willing to participate (as guests) but not to
drive the channel when they hear about postproduction
processing and dissemination,”
said Dr Ong, pointing to staff’s tight
schedules and funding issues as other reasons.
Perhaps one way to lure others is the fame
associated with a successful podcast channel.
Said Dr Ong, “My daughter told her friends she
has the coolest dad because he’s on Spotify.
That was an additional bonus because suddenly
I’m an influencer! I’m a podcaster!”
Just as podcasting has its issues to
overcome, the work that Dr Ong does as a doctor has its challenges too. He sees
patients mostly with common conditions
like irritable bowel syndrome and
gastroesophageal reflux, but some have
issues that are not easily diagnosed. “You end
up walking the journey with them because
you want to help them as much as you can to
improve their quality of life,” he said.
As a gastroenterologist, Dr Ong is often
the most popular guest during Chinese New
Year visits. “I am often asked about common
stomach symptoms, what foods to avoid and
so on,” he said good-humouredly.
Update: As of 4 July 2023, Dr Andrew Ong has announced that his podcasting journey on Guts & Glory has come to an end.
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