On the Air: Medical Students Shine in Radio Program

John Merril Steskal talking during his radio show.

June 27, 2024
By Cindy Hval | UW-GU Health Partnership

UW School of Medicine-Spokane students are guests on Ellensburg Community Radio’s “Dr. John’s Radio Show”.

From monkeypox to yoga to fielding health care questions from first-graders, family physician John Merrill-Steskal, M.D., has found a unique way to connect with and inform his community.

For seven years, Merrill-Steskal has hosted “Dr. John’s Radio Show” on Ellensburg Community Radio (ECR).

“When my wife mentioned ECR, I thought it might be fun to do a health radio show,” he recalled. “So, I went for it.”

Merrill-Steskal is the primary preceptor for UW School of Medicine (UWSOM)-Spokane’s Targeted Rural Underserved Track (TRUST) program. UW medical students in TRUST are assigned to an underserved community where they participate in a clinical experience before starting medical school, then go on to and work one-on-one with a physician in their TRUST community throughout four years of medical school.

“My very first radio show featured interviews with two UW medical students,” he said.

In addition to subjects suggested by the community, he invites medical students to choose a topic they’re interested in and be a guest “expert.”

For fourth-year UWSOM-Spokane student Meagan Johnson, working in Ellensburg offered a welcome dose of a familiar lifestyle.

“I grew up in Enumclaw, Washington, population of about 12, 000,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to work in a rural area – that’s what shaped me into the person I am.”

Her introduction to Ellensburg came before she started medical school when she spent a week in the area.

“Dr. Merrill-Steskal was so welcoming and wonderful,” said Johnson. “I spent the week learning about the needs of the community. I went out with the Bookmobile which provides books to lower-income residents.”

She worked in Ellensburg several times during her first year of medical school and spent five months there during her third year.

“It became apparent that access to mental health care was a major concern,” she said.

That’s why when Merrill-Steskal asked her to be a guest on his radio show, she knew what topic she wanted to discuss.

“I chose to talk about social media and anxiety and depression in youth,” Johnson said. “It was a general discussion and a Q&A format.”

She admitted to experiencing a bit of nerves before her radio debut, but Merrill-Steskal quickly put her at ease as they dove into her topic.

“It was a wonderful experience because when you’re preparing something to present, you learn so much more.”

First-year UWSOM-Spokane student Ryan Wendt’s experience on “Dr. John’s Radio Show” proved educational as well.

Wendt grew up on a farm in southeast Idaho and later moved to Tri-Cities, Washington.

“I really wanted to be part of the TRUST program,” he said. “I want to practice rural medicine.”

A week before he started medical school in Spokane, he shadowed Merrill-Steskal in Ellensburg.
“It was a cool experience. I got to know him and the community a bit.”

In March, during his second visit to Ellensburg, Merrill-Steskal asked Wendt if he’d like to visit a class of first-graders for his radio program.

Being grilled by 6-and 7-year-olds had them both thinking on their feet. “They asked questions like, ‘Why do we get runny noses?’ and ‘How do our hearts work?’ ” Wendt recalled. He was able to employ some superhero metaphors about germs and the immune system. “It was a good learning experience,” he said.

He’s already thinking about his topic for his next radio appearance. Merrill-Steskal said having the medical students on “Dr. John’s Radio Show,” energizes him. “It’s a nice way for them to be included in the community,” he said. “I love their fresh minds and thoughtful questions. I enjoy learning with them.”

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