Dr Andrew Ong began podcasting gastrorelated content to help his students during the COVID-19 pandemic, but his channel has succeeded beyond that modest aspiration.

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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