By Alisa Kim
When University of Toronto philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message,” he meant that we need to think about the impact of a given technology (the medium) over and above its content (the message).
For Matthew Goulbourne and Sarah Sawaya, graduate students at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME), the phrase is especially resonant. Goulbourne, a graduate of the MHSc Health Administration program, and Sawaya, who is in the Master of Health Informatics program, launched a podcast called Built to Lead: The Health Leaders of Tomorrow. Neither had any experience producing a podcast, but the pair have wrapped up a successful inaugural season, the theme of which is “leadership: from self-doubt to confidence.”
The podcast makes concepts of Vernissage Health, a dialogue series that pairs graduate students who are emerging health leaders with established health leaders, available to all. Vernissage Health takes only 30 students each year. Its founder, Wendy Nelson, was looking for a way to share these ideas with all IHPME trainees when Goulbourne proposed the idea of creating a podcast.
Nelson, who provided support and guidance for the project, says Goulbourne and Sawaya embody the first season’s theme of overcoming self-doubt as they had to learn quickly the ins and outs of podcasting.
“I’ve seen [them] grow so much through this process and to see how happy they are about what they did, that makes me happy. I feel pride in the product, pride that people are listening and enjoying it, and pride in what Matthew and Sarah have done and what it’s done for them,” she says.
There are six episodes. Goulbourne and Sawaya, the show’s hosts, mine for insights on leadership by speaking with current IHPME students, recent alumni who are early in their careers, mid-career leaders, and established leaders with broad health system experience. They capped the season with a live webinar on Oct. 1, 2020 featuring Matt Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health and Camille Orridge, former CEO of Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre and a senior Fellow at Wellesley Institute.
They began the show in January 2020. Goulbourne was then a full-time student and Sawaya had to juggle her studies and work responsibilities. Goulbourne recalls a particularly hectic morning where he had to rush from class straight to a recording session, lugging heavy equipment in the cold.
He likens the experience of releasing the podcast—with all its ups and downs—to the pride felt by parents watching their kids graduate from school. One of the takeaways is to be okay with uncertainty when embarking on a new project. “You don’t need to know everything. Just go in as prepared as you can be. That’s something that kept coming up. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we prepared our best, put in 100% effort, and good things came out of it,” says Goulbourne.
Sawaya notes they had to wear many hats: technician, producer, host, editor and marketer. She found interviewing guests particularly rewarding. “I think we both improved our communication skills a lot. If you listen from the first episode to the last episode, you can see the difference. I use those skills every day at work. It was one of the only things I’ve done where I can see the direct one-to-one value,” she says.
For next season, they are looking for a bigger project team to fill the roles. People interested in helping with the show should refer to the podcast web page and contact Nelson directly.
In reflecting on how the team took the podcast all the way from an idea to a high-quality final product, Nelson says it is a little like art imitating life. “This is what leadership in health care is about. That’s what we do time and time again—we take things from an idea, to planning, to execution. They got a taste of leadership, what it’s like to lead an initiative. It’s really cool.”
The Built to Lead podcast was produced for Vernissage Health, which is supported by IHPME, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T and Associated Medical Services.