The Modern-Day Textbook

Ophthalmologists are turning to podcasts to teach and learn

Dr. Natalie Homer fills an education gap by hosting podcasts about ophthalmology.


WHEN NATALIE HOMER MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and an ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Byers Eye Institute, was deep in her training and eager to squeeze learning into every free second, she wished for an ophthalmology podcast she could turn on during the more mundane tasks of everyday life.

Podcasts were popular and growing when Homer finished her residency in 2018, but the ophthalmic world had yet to carve out its own space in the audio medium.

Just five years later, Homer makes the podcasts she wished she had in 2018, but she is far from the only one filling the gap. Many Byers Eye Institute faculty have jumped into the world of podcasting to connect with other clinicians, encourage continuing education, provide career insights, and help people improve health.

“Podcasts can be an invaluable tool, not only for trainees but for practicing physicians,” Homer said. “They’re valuable because the podcasts serve as a readily accessible resource to further expand our education.”

The wealth of knowledge available on podcasts today is what Homer has dubbed “the modern-day textbook,” as people spend a growing amount of their time tuning in.

In 2013, only 12% of Americans aged 12 and older listened to a podcast within the prior month, according to the Pew Research Center, but in 2023, that number jumped up to 31%.

Filling the gap

For Homer, podcasting is a constant these days. She is a host of the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery’s official podcast, where she hosts virtual journal clubs, surgical technique debates, and expert advice sessions on topics like practice management and contract negotiation.

The first time Khizer Khaderi, MD, MPH, a neuro-ophthalmologist and technology developer at the Byers Eye Institute, was on a podcast, he was interviewed about his nontraditional path to becoming a medical doctor and researcher.  “I had an inspiring idea about how we could better measure visual function in people, and I withdrew from the usual clinical path to start a video game company based off my research,” Khaderi said.

Khaderi wants others to know that they can pursue a multitude of interests and still be highly skilled clinicians who treat patients.

“I get a lot of like feedback about how it’s a refreshing perspective because it’s not the same echo chamber,” Khaderi said.

Dr. Andrew Huberman interviews Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg for the June 26 episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast. The episode has been accessed an estimated 10 million times. 

Looking to the future

Then there are chances to dive into the nitty-gritty. 

That’s what E.J. Chichilnisky, PhD, the John R. Adler Professor of Neurosurgery, and professor of ophthalmology at Stanford, did in his March 9, 2023 appearance on the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford’s podcast, "From Our Neurons to Yours." 

In Chichilnisky’s episode, titled “Building a bionic eye,” he translated the complex science of how the eye’s retina receives light and turns it into signals our brains can perceive as an image. He described how a device could function as an artificial retina that could restore sight in people with conditions like macular degeneration, or one day offer humans new visual skills.

The science is promising, and podcasts are a great way to spread the word, Chichilinsisky said. “So far, people love them,” he added.

Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, Blumenkranz Smead professor and chair of ophthalmology, focused on reaching the broader public during his appearance on the Huberman Lab Podcast last summer. 

Andrew Huberman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology and, by courtesy, ophthalmology at Stanford, has nearly 4 million YouTube subscribers, and his podcast frequently ranks among the top-10 most popular on Spotify and Apple platforms. 

“The Huberman Lab Podcast was a great opportunity to reach millions of people all at once with information that could benefit them in their daily lives and in their work,” Goldberg said, reflecting on the experience. “That is a rare and exciting opportunity for any physician.”

During the June 26 episode, those who struggle with glaucoma—the leading cause of irreversible vision loss worldwide—may have been most interested to learn about his promising research into reversing vision loss from the devastating disease. 

Parents may have been motivated to take a trip to the park after learning outdoor light may help reduce near-sightedness, known as myopia, in children’s vision. 

Whatever the takeaway, the goal is shared: “We want to make information more available to those who want it,” Homer said. “So many of us are tuning into podcasts for education, it really is the modern-day textbook.”

Emma is a freelance writer for the Byers Eye Institute at Stanford.