This Interview Will Kill You

A Conversation With the Hosts of 'This Podcast Will Kill You'

Ryan Syrek, MA


July 16, 2019

What kind of feedback have you gotten from students and others in medicine?

Allmann Updyke: We have gotten a lot of feedback that we provide a human aspect to diseases. At the beginning of every episode, we include a firsthand account of living through a specific disease or illness. Learning in context can really help you understand in a different way and appreciate how real people are impacted. I think this is invaluable if you're a physician, nurse, or someone in medical training.

Welsh: Some undergraduates have said they listened and then thought, "How do I do this? How do I be an epidemiologist or develop vaccines or become a field agent for the CDC?" Most of the time we say, "We don't know! We don't do those things. We just read about people who do." I think exposing these students to a wider range of career opportunities is also very valuable.

Allmann Updyke: It's absolutely thrilling whenever we get email from physicians who say they love the podcast. I think "Oh, great! That means we're not getting things too wrong!" I think the most exciting thing is when we hear from students who are interested in science or medicine but were told they weren't smart enough, or they started feeling like science was too difficult and, in listening to the podcast, they realized there are other options.

Anyone who wants to do science can do science. This notion that science is difficult or that you have to be super smart in order to do it is a fallacy that's really a bummer because it scares people off from pursuing certain careers. When people say, "I didn't think I could do this, but now I'm going to go get my master's in public health" or whatever it is, that is a really thrilling thing to hear.

I bet! On the other side of things, you've discussed vaccination and have frequently acted as advocates. Do you ever get any blowback?

Welsh: I didn't check Twitter much during the vaccination episodes.

That's always a good idea and highly recommended!

Allmann Updyke: I can't stay off Twitter. It's addicting!

Welsh: Actually, I think one of the things I could have done better at exploring during the vaccine episodes was vaccine hesitancy and the antivaccine movement. As we were preparing these episodes, I was thinking, "I want to have empathy. I want to remember that some of these people are making decisions out of fear." People who are actively campaigning against vaccines are very dangerous people, but that's an area where I could have done better.

Allmann Updyke: We have never tried to be, nor will we ever be, a neutral podcast. We are human beings with our own opinions and thoughts and our own biases. We try to do a good job addressing and recognizing these biases, but there are some opinions that we're not going to skirt around. I think we've learned and try to continually improve on how to present information in a way that's not going to alienate people who disagree. But we do so without trying to present two sides as equal, especially when you have topics such as the vaccine movement. Vaccines are beneficial. There's a reason why we are in support of vaccines. We don't want to give credence to movements that don't have a lot of credibility behind them. Yet we also don't want to alienate people who, like Erin said, could be on the fence.

I think we got a lot more pushback during our first season than in our second in terms of people hating our politics and telling us we should stop talking about that. We're never going to be able to stop talking about politics. Health and politics are intricately related whether people like it or not. We're never going to eliminate it from our vocabulary. We have been trying to learn ways to communicate these ideas without being mean or judgmental. Overall, the response has been really positive!


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