Medical Education

The Last Webcast

After 860 shows, I filmed my last continuing medical education webcast 2 weeks ago and today, it is being released on the internet. In 1998, I took over as moderator and editor of the weekly Ohio Medical Education Network TV series (OMEN-TV) that later became the webcast, OSU MedNet. For 24 years, I have spent every Friday at noon from September through June in a television studio to keep practicing physicians up to date on the newest developments in medicine. Today, I am now officially retired from the Ohio State University.

The third pillar of medical education

MedNet is devoted to continuing medical education (CME). There are three components to medical education: medical student education, graduate medical education, and continuing medical education. Medical student education is based in our nation’s medical schools where medical students receive 4 years of classroom and clinical education in order to receive their MD or DO degrees. Graduate medical education (GME) is based in our nation’s hospitals where graduates of medical schools spend 3-5 years training as residents and then may spend an additional 1-4 years training as subspecialty fellows. Continuing medical education is for physicians who have finished residency and fellowship training and are now out in clinical practice.

CME is the least lauded of these three pillars of medical education. Medical student education is the realm of university professors and deans whose salaries come from tuition, endowments, and state government support. GME is the realm of clinician educators, department chairs, and division directors whose teaching income comes from Medicare education support and clinical revenue. Success in both medical student education and GME can be a foundation for academic physician career development and university promotion. On the other hand, CME often lacks the glamour of medical student and resident education. Success in CME rarely leads to university promotion and most CME educators do it voluntarily, without pay.

Where do doctors get CME?

In order to maintain their medical licenses, doctors are required to have a certain number of continuing medical education hours every year. The specific requirements vary from state to state; here in Ohio, the State Medical Board requires physicians to have 50 hours of CME every two years. In the past, most physicians would get their CME from a combination of hospital grand rounds and medical conferences. Hospital grand rounds are free and the attendees are mostly physicians who practice at that particular hospital. Large hospitals can recruit grand rounds speakers from their own medical staff who present their grand rounds lectures without getting paid; delivering a grand rounds lecture is considered part of one’s normal professional obligations. Smaller hospitals generally have to bring in outside grand rounds speakers who get paid an honorarium fee. Weekly outside speakers can be very expensive for hospitals and for many smaller hospitals, can be cost-prohibitive.

There are two main types of medical conferences: those sponsored by hospitals and those sponsored by national specialty societies. Hospital-sponsored conferences are usually 1-day events that attract local or regional physicians and consist of several lectures on a particular topic, for example diabetes or heart disease. Specialty society-sponsored conferences are held once a year in a convention center and features dozens of lectures over several days that attendees can choose from. Conferences are very expensive to put on and the money to fund conferences comes from a combination of meeting registration fees and educational grants from pharmaceutical and medical devices companies. Like hospital grand rounds speakers, the educators at conferences generally do not get paid for delivering their lectures but sometimes have their meeting registration fees waived in exchange for their presentations.

A different way of doing CME

The Ohio State University was originally established as a land grant college. The land grant concept was created by the Morrill Act signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 that allowed the U.S. government to grant some colleges federal land to build on and in exchange, those colleges would focus on science, agriculture, and engineering (in contrast to private colleges that were largely based on liberal arts). Every state in the U.S. has at least one land grant college. One of the provisions of the Morrill Act was that land grant colleges also had to serve as a community resource for agriculture and science. This was the origin of agricultural extension offices that are still in use today.

In 1962, as part of its land grant mission, the Ohio State University created a medical education outreach program that had a lot of similarities to the agricultural extension offices. The program was called OMEN which stood for the Ohio Medical Education Network. It was broadcast at noon from an audio studio set up in Starling Loving Hall on the OSU Medical Center campus. Participating hospitals would be pre-mailed 35 mm Kodachrome slide sets and then OSU medical school faculty would broadcast their lectures over a telephone speaker system with “beeps” indicating when to advance the slides. After each formal presentation, the listeners could call in to get advice from the OSU specialists on the management of their own patients. Initially, most of the participating hospitals were smaller, often rural hospitals in Ohio. Over time, hospitals in other states and many VA hospitals were added. Sixty years ago, this was a revolutionary, state-of-the-art concept in distance education that for the first time, allowed physicians practicing in smaller communities to keep up with breakthroughs in disease diagnosis and treatment.

In 1990, OMEN expanded from the audio program using slide sets into a satellite TV program and was re-named OMEN-TV. The participating hospitals would use a satellite dish to receive the programs and they were filmed in a TV studio in Atwell Hall on the OSU Medical Center campus. The shows were live presentations and satellite time was rented from noon to 1:00 PM every Friday from September through June (mirroring the university’s academic year). The TV program had the advantage that now the audience could see the presenters and we could incorporate video, for example, of a surgical procedure. At the end of each show, viewers could call in and ask questions live on-air. In the early years of OMEN-TV, I was a frequent guest presenter, lecturing on various pulmonary and critical care topics. Then, in 1998, I took over as the moderator and medical editor of OMEN-TV.

Like its audio predecessor, OMEN-TV was a ground-breaking concept for continuing medical education. Initially, there was nothing else like it in the United States. Subscribing hospitals would pay a small annual subscription fee to the OSU College of Medicine and in return, they would get weekly medical education shows that allowed their doctors to get CME credits without having to leave to attend an out-of-town conference. It was also far less costly to the hospitals than bringing in outside grand rounds speakers every week. The downside was that if doctors were in the operating room or attending to sick patients at the time of the broadcast, they would miss the presentation. We did additionally replay the shows on cable TV but it was generally a public access channel and often shown at an inconvenient time of the day or night. The number of subscribing hospitals grew with more VA hospitals and community hospitals throughout the country added every year.

OMEN-TV was costly to produce. The live TV show required 3 cameramen, a sound technician, someone to hold cue cards (and later to run a teleprompter), staff to take viewer phone calls, a film director, computer technicians, a make-up artist, and a full-time producer. The subscription fees only covered a small part of the total production costs so additional financial support came from the OSU Medical Center. But even that was not enough to fully fund the program. So, we would reach out to pharmaceutical companies and educational foundations to get unrestricted educational grants. We would acknowledge these organizations in the credits at the beginning of each show, similar to what you see with PBS broadcasts. The hospital paid 10% of my salary to be the moderator and editor of OMEN-TV. Each show required about 8 hours of my time to recruit presenters, review and edit slides before broadcast, prep the presenters, rehearse, host the live show, and fill out all of the CME paperwork after each show. Each season initially consisted of 28 shows per year and we quickly expanded to 40 per year – every Friday from September through June with weeks off for major holidays. I was the sole host and the only times I could take vacations were July, August, and the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years Day. Fortunately, I was able to avoid any major illnesses or injuries that would have kept me out of the studio.

But OMEN-TV had its downsides. Since it was a live broadcast, subscribing hospitals were limited to showing the program at noon on Fridays. We did not have a good way to reach physicians who were not on the medical staff of a subscribing hospital. Also, in the early 2000’s, there was mounting pressure from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to eliminate educational grants from pharmaceutical companies in order to reduce the risk of conflict of interest affecting presentations. OMEN-TV needed to evolve once again into a leaner, more widely available program.

In 2002, OMEN-TV transformed from a satellite TV show into a webcast. In order to better reflect the internet medium of broadcast, the program was re-named OSU MedNet-21 (medical education for the 21st century). We retained most of the elements of the OMEN-TV production but now subscribing hospitals could show MedNet on any day and time that best fit with the hospitals’ medical staff calendars. Also, by being a video-on-demand product, we could keep the shows available on the internet for 3 years. So, at any given time, we had 120 hours of CME available on the OSU Center for Continuing Medical Education’s website. We made the webcasts available for free for anyone to view – no user account or password needed. The only requirement was that physicians who wanted to get CME credit for viewing the webcasts had to either view them at a subscribing hospital or had to pay a small fee after viewing the webcasts in order to take a 10-question CME post-test. The webcast format allowed us to track viewer numbers – we could not identify individual viewers but we could tell what country they were viewing from. We have had physician viewers from 136 countries watch MedNet webcasts. Soon after converting to a webcast, we moved production to the WOSU-TV studios on the university campus.


As a webcast, we were able to significantly reduce our production costs. In the WOSU-TV studio, we used 3 remotely operated digital cameras, eliminating the need for individual cameramen. We stopped using a make-up artist and since the webcasts were not shown live, we no longer needed people to operate phones. Instead of a massive studio crew, we were able to film each webcast using just 4 people in a separate control room to operate cameras, do audio, operate the teleprompter, and do the computer integration. With with reduction in production costs, we no longer needed grants from pharmaceutical companies and we were able to fully finance the program with subscription fees and support from the OSU Medical Center and the OSU James Cancer Hospital. Each webcast is also available as an audio-only podcast, allowing physicians to get their CME by podcast during their commute to and from work.

Meeting physician educational needs

Today, OSU MedNet goes out to 70 hospitals nationwide, with the largest number of subscribing hospitals here in Ohio. Because most of these hospitals are smaller community hospitals, most of the viewers are primary care physicians: family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, and hospitalists. Each year, we do a needs assessment by soliciting topic recommendations from our viewers. We also ask the OSU department chairs, division directors, deans, and medical directors for topic suggestions. I would go through the last year’s editions of the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC. From this, we had about 2-300 possible topics. We then use a group of OSU primary care physicians to rank the topics and the highest ranked topics become the next season’s shows. I then identify and recruit physicians from the Ohio State University to present each of those topics. For most of these presenters, it is the largest audience that they will ever have, reaching hundreds of physicians all over the world and impacting thousands of patients’ lives.

As a webcast, MedNet has the flexibility to do additional shows on short notice when new developments in medicine occur. So, for example, we were able to do webcasts on SARS, Ebola, and Zika virus within 2 weeks of the initial cases of these infections. When COVID-19 first developed in January 2020, we were able to put out a COVID-19 MedNet on February 3, 2020, just two weeks after the first reported case in the U.S. and before Ohio had any cases. Since the pandemic began, we have done 9 COVID webcasts as new developments in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention arose. When case rates began to rise last winter due to the Omicron variant, we were able to get a COVID update on the internet within 5 days of concept inception in order to help physicians manage the surging number of cases in their own communities.

The last webcast

In April 2021, I retired from the Ohio State University and from clinical practice. I was at OSU for 43 years as a research lab assistant, medical student, resident, fellow, and professor. However, after retiring, I agreed to continue as the moderator and host of OSU MedNet until my successor was named. So, for the past year, I’ve continued to host the webcasts every Friday. I’ve done it as a volunteer, without compensation, because I’m very passionate about the program and about the need to continue to provide quality continuing medical education to physicians around the world. Besides, I have a lot of fun hosting the show and it has kept me engaged with the OSU medical community as a way of easing into retirement.

For two years, we recorded MedNet by Zoom from our office computers rather than using the WOSU-TV studios because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2022, the case numbers had fallen low enough to permit us to take off our face masks and return to the studio safely. During the pandemic, construction did not stop on the new WOSU Media Building and last month, we filmed our first webcast in the new WOSU-TV studio. It is a truly state of the art facility with superior cameras, sound, and lighting.

It took nearly a year to solicit applications for the next MedNet moderator and then to select finalists, do auditions, and do the final selection. I am absolutely delighted that Dr. Shengyi (“Jing-Jing”) Mao will be taking over as my successor. She is an OSU primary care physician who is board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics and has been a regular MedNet presenter in the past few years.

Today, we are releasing my last official webcast as moderator and host of OSU MedNet and next week, Jing-Jing will take over in the studio. I’ll be back occasionally to fill in when needed but for the first time in 24 years, my Fridays will be open and I’ll be free to travel outside of Columbus whenever I want. For my last show, I decided to be both the moderator and the guest and so I hosted my own presentation. I decided to talk about Physician Financial Health. For 15 years, I served as the treasurer and vice chair of the OSU Department of Internal Medicine and part of my responsibilities was to advise new faculty about retirement plan options, personal finances, and saving for children’ college education. That expanded to annual talks to the residents and the fellows about financial planning and has resulted in a number of posts on this blog about physician finances and about retirement planning. So, as a recent retiree, I decided that financial health would be a fitting topic for my last webcast. You can view the webcast by clicking here.

After 810 shows, I’ve learned a lot about areas of medicine that as a pulmonary and critical care physician, I never would have otherwise have learned about. I’ve met fascinating people who were our guests – both doctors and other healthcare professionals. I’ve also learned a lot about TV and webcast production. But most of all, I’ve had fun doing it… a lot of fun. And now, it’s time to become a MedNet viewer, rather than the MedNet moderator.



April 8, 2022

By James Allen, MD

I am a Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University and former Medical Director of Ohio State University East Hospital