In just three years, Dr. Dustyn Williams has helped build OnLineMedEd to annual revenue of $3.5 million. Now, he’s looking to expand the mission of the company from training medical students to providing online courses in a range of fields.
Williams, a physician at Baton Rouge General Medical Center who serves as a faculty member for the medical center’s internal medicine residency program, helped launch OnlineMedEd in 2014.
He came up with the idea for OnlineMedEd while he was a medical student at Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina, wanting to help prepare students for their medical education.
The company offers medical education to about 75,000 unique email addresses each month. While the core videos are free, OnlineMedEd makes its money by selling “freemium” content, such as lessons that prepare students for medical residencies and continuing education classes.
“Medical knowledge belongs to no one,” Williams said. “If you have an internet connection, you can get the fundamentals.”
For Williams, the key is that medical students get a basic understanding of the patterns that diseases and ailments follow. Getting that basic knowledge down gives them the background to diagnose and manage diseases.
“You have to know the illness script the way it is supposed to be,” he said.
The incident that best summarizes his inspiration for creating OnlineMedEd was a two-hour lecture he received on contraception that came up during his obstetric and gynecological rotation. Instead of getting instruction on the most common birth control methods and common side effects associated with them, Williams said the lecture dealt with things that only a reproductive endocrinologist would understand or need to know.
With the help of his then-girlfriend and a friend who was doing audio-video work at the Superdome, Williams started making his own instructional videos out of his spare bedroom. The goal was to teach medical students the basics of what they needed to know.
“We would give whiteboard talks geared to adult learners,” he said. That meant shooting videos that were 15 to 20 minutes long, which is about the optimal length for a lesson.
While shooting the videos, Williams started figuring out what he needed to know to teach a subject properly. “Just because you’re a good doctor, it’s not a guarantee you are a good teacher,” Williams said. “Those are few and far between.”
Giving medical students a solid educational foundation is important, Williams said. The only currency in medical school is grades because that’s what determines the type of residency a student gets.
If students have the foundation of knowledge they need for medical school, then the stress of making good grades is reduced, Williams said. That will allow them to become better physicians, he said.
“If you’re only driven by grades, you will never grow as a person or as a doctor,” Williams said. “Exceptional doctors are able to communicate.”
There also are benefits for medical schools from OnlineMedEd, he said. Because students are getting medical basics from the videos, the schools can offer leadership classes to train them to be better doctors. "There's an opportunity to concentrate on the other things that make a great doctor," he said.
While Williams has been the one unifying voice on camera, he relies on peer reviewers to make sure his videos are accurate. He relies on a network of physicians from Chicago to Houston to help him.
The growth of OnlineMedEd was launched in 2013 when Jamie Fitch came on board. Fitch, who earned a master's degree in public health from Tulane, serves as chief executive officer. He’s based in Austin, Texas, with about 20 employees.
“We’ve taken no investment,” Williams said. “We’re not interested in profits; that would be degrading to our mission.”
Despite this, OnlineMedEd has tripled its revenue with no marketing campaign or sales force. The business is on track to bring in $5 million in revenue this year.
OnlineMedEd also is looking at a future as more than just a medical education business.
“Jamie sees us as not just medical but as an education company,” Williams said.
The company is exploring offering lessons on how to be a manager and hire and fire for a variety of industries, including hospitality and tourism.
“We have other markets to go into,” he said.