Can Webinars do to Radiology what Satellite TV did to Cricket?

We recently completed the 500th webinar of the Café Roentgen REF series (we started the webinars much before Covid struck, on 29th May 2019). It felt simply wonderful; it felt as if I was seeing my kid graduating with top honors! It also set me thinking about the enormous impact of webinars in general in the last few years. An analogy from cricket struck me.

If we ask our parents about their cricket memories, they first followed it on transistors. Commentators described every ball in vivid detail, painting a picture of what was happening live on the field in the eyes of every listener. This then moved over to the television (Doordarshan) era, when the public could see the match being played on TV. The quality of commentary however declined. Commentators were used to simply describing what was happening on the radio rather than analyzing it; this forte was of little use when the viewer could see the match on TV anyway.

The satellite era then followed, with leading ex-cricketers handling the commentary box. Suddenly, listening to the commentary was as much fun as watching the match. Everyone in India could listen to Sunny Gavaskar describe what was wrong with the batsman’s technique, Tony Greig discuss the field placements, and Geoffrey Boycott talk of the mind games playing out between the bowler and the batsman. It was simply exhilarating stuff; every Indian was learning the tricks of the trade from the experts. More and more statistics now compliment the commentary, giving further insights into how to personalize strategies against individual players.

We can trace the impact of this evolution on Indian cricket. Mumbai has been one of the national leaders in cricket. So much so that Mumbai has won the Ranji trophy a record 41 times, compared to 2 by Maharashtra. There is a reason why Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli and Ajit Agarkar all came from Mumbai. Mumbai provided its youth ample opportunity to see the greats in action and learn from them, via is famous parks and maidans, local leagues, and domestic and international matches hosted by it. The youth got to see their role models in action, and learn from coaches who had probably played alongside them in domestic leagues. Budding cricketers from smaller places could not even dream of this kind of exposure. Even with cricket’s increasingly popularity along with improving sports infrastructure post the World Cup 1983 win, the national team remained predominantly city based. Scahin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Dravid, and Laxman all came from the metros.

However, the advent of satellite TV and world-class commentary in the early 1990’s changed all that. Kids across the country could listen to the greats, and implement the concepts learn in their daily play. Cricket knowledge in the tier II and III cities thus improved substantially. No wonder then, as these kids grew into their teens, they could now become as good as the Mumbai ‘elite’. Players like Dhoni, Harbhajan, Raina, Irfan and Zaheer thus erupted from the smaller towns. The IPL has taken this to the next level, with local players rubbing shoulders with international ones and gaining an unprecedented level of confidence, bringing out cricketers like Pant, Pandya and Surya in the limelight.

Pre webinar radiology was probably equivalent to the pre satellite era. We had islands of excellence in the larger cities. These had better radiology infrastructure and excellent teachers and mentors. Those trained in the metros got to work in MRI, CT, intervention etc and had good radiology faculty, giving them a huge advantage. While the tier II and III hospitals also had good patient volumes and sincere teachers, the overall exposure to state-of-the-art equipment, high quality work, SOPs, and interaction with good clinical faculty remained relatively suboptimal.

The advent of the webinar age has changed that. Residents from across the country (and indeed the world) can access quality teaching right from their rooms. They can learn from the experts. Unlike physical conferences where there is almost never any time for Q and As, many webinars give sufficient time to resolve all queries. Furthermore, many trainees often find it intimidating to ask doubts directly after a physical talk. The anonymity offered by a webinar allows many to freely ask the most basic questions without feeling judged. The quality of talks allows trainees to understand what the referring physician expects. Besides, they learn soft skills like the art of creating a powerpoint and taking a talk, and also gain role models and potential connections beyond their own hospital. Realizing that many such speakers came from backgrounds like their own also instills more confidence and ambition in many attendees. The knowledge and confidence gained from the webinars couple with hard work and exposure to high volume patient loads in the local hospitals balances the tier I city advantage in most scenarios.

Assuming my hypothesis to be true, the gap between the quality of residents in tier I vs the tier II and III cities ought to substantially decrease. We will of course know better in the coming few years, but I personally feel that the impact of webinars is already manifesting. Earlier, barring some exceptions, I usually felt that our MD residents scored over outside fellows and SRs who joined Tata. However, this changed last year, when I worked with two of the most amazing fellows/residents we have ever had, both from small institutes in Gujarat and Punjab.

I do hope this trend continues; this is what true democratization of education. I am looking forward to some really invigorating times ahead!

Do share your views in the comments section! Look forward to everyone’s opinion on this.

– Akshay Baheti


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