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The Pulse

Health & Wellness Podcasts

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.


United States


Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.








The Evolution of Plastic Surgery

During World War I, thousands of soldiers suffered catastrophic facial injuries. If these soldiers survived their injuries, they were often shunned once they got back home. Some were forced to sit on brightly painted blue benches so that the public knew not to look at them. Many became isolated — sometimes their fiancées broke off their engagements, or their families rejected them — and came to feel that their lives were no longer worth living. But then an enterprising surgeon entered the...

A Journey into the Minds of Whales

Tom Mustill was sure he was going to die — that was the last thing he thought as he watched a humpback whale arc majestically out of the water … and begin to fall directly onto his kayak. But Mustill didn’t die. A video of the incident went viral, and as he later learned from an expert, it appeared that the whale pivoted at the last second — maybe to avoid crushing Mustill. It was a terrifying experience — but one that also ignited a deep curiosity in him. What exactly was the whale...

The Fight Against Extinction

Around the world, at dawn, something magical happens. As the sun rises, nature seems to wake up, and different species break into a chorus of song and call. These “dawn choruses” are one way we experience the rich tapestry of life all around us. But that tapestry is wearing thin, as species disappear from our planet at an increasingly fast rate. On this episode, we take a look at biodiversity — the variety of life on earth. We talk about why it matters, how it’s being threatened, and what...


Fighting Burnout

The pandemic hasn’t just changed how we live — it’s changed how we work, and how we feel about our jobs. One of the major ripple effects: burnout. Over the past couple years, people in all different jobs — from doctors to teachers, students to hospital workers — have found themselves exhausted and struggling, questioning if it’s them or their workplaces, and if they belong in their jobs at all. Burnout can lead to serious problems — depression and insomnia, the feeling that your work, or...


From Power Wheelchairs to Prosthetic Hands — the Gear That’s Changing Lives

It was a summer day in 2012 when Bob Richey’s life was changed forever. He was a new college grad, having fun with friends at the beach. Like he’d done so many times before, Richey dove into the surf — but this time, something was off. He broke two vertebrae in his neck and ended up paralyzed from the chest down. Since then, he’s been using a power wheelchair, which allows him to get around, work as a software engineer, even drive a custom van. When medical equipment is an absolute...


Parents Know Best — or Do They?

Learning how to be a parent can feel overwhelming, and advice is everywhere. There are the things you’re learning from other parents, the things you’re reading in books, the things you hear from your pediatrician, from influencers, from your great aunt Margaret … and in the meantime, you’re trying to develop your own instincts as a parent. So who do you listen to? Who’s the real expert? And how much do these decisions ultimately matter to the health and well-being of your kid? On this...


The Pulse Presents: Serum

Serum follows the life and work of Dr. Gary Davis, a Black physician from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was working on a treatment for AIDS in the 1990s. This is episode 3: Red Flags and Green Lights. Reporter Grant Hill gets in touch with one of the last people to have seen Dr. Davis’ serum in action, a Tulsa photographer named Doug Henderson. The conversation reveals that in 2004, Dr. Davis conducted human trials in Africa — enlisting the help of the photographer and celebrity Bishop Carton...


From Polio to COVID — the Evolution of Intensive Care

The modern ICU, or Intensive Care Unit, was born out of a time of crisis. It was 1952, and polio was raging in many places — especially the city of Copenhagen. Patients poured into the hospitals, many of them gasping for air, turning blue, and eventually dying. Then a brilliant doctor tried a radically different approach — pumping air directly into patients’ lungs. It was an idea that would require intensive manpower, but save many lives. And it led to the birth of a new kind of medicine:...


Chasing Scientific Holy Grails

Science is all about discovery — tackling the big questions that define our world, and hopefully our future. But some of these questions are as obscure as they are important. The challenges seem endless — with any kind of answer decades or even generations away — but, if answered, these quests could transform life as we know it. On this episode, we explore some of science’s holy grails — we look into why these questions matter, and how close they are to being answered, and meet the people...


When to Trust Your Intuition

It’s when a dark alleyway makes the hairs stand up on the back of our neck; when a mother just knows that something’s wrong with her kid; when you meet someone, and can tell they’ll either be your best friend — or your worst nightmare. On the surface, intuition can seem a bit like magic — this unexplainable knowledge that pops in our heads, based on nothing but a feeling. But scientists say there’s more to intuition than just gut instinct. It’s about how our brains use years of accrued...


An Untold History in the Fight Against AIDS

In the fall of 2019, reporter Grant Hill jumped into a cab — where his driver, Clyde Ashley Sherman, told him the story of a lifetime. Decades before, the driver had worked for a Black physician from Oklahoma named Gary Davis. In the 1990s, Davis developed a treatment for AIDS based on goat antibodies. The physician submitted his research to the FDA, but his clinical trial was shut down right before it was set to start. Frustrated, Davis went abroad to get his treatment off the ground. He...


Troubled Waters

Our lives depend on water — not just any water: clean, safe water. We need it for drinking, for cooking, for washing. And very often, we take it for granted. But in many parts of the world — including the U.S. — water is becoming a precious commodity. The American West is currently experiencing a “megadrought,” which is rapidly draining important water supplies. That’s led one ranching community in Wyoming to seek out ways to protect their water sources. Emerging science is on their side —...


How Science is Changing Sports

Science is constantly propelling athletes to run faster, jump higher, push harder, and break records. Scientific advances have become such a big part of competitions that some critics say innovation is beginning to overshadow athleticism. On this episode, we explore the different ways in which science is shaping sports. We hear stories about high-tech gear and equipment, like running shoes with soles that contain highly-engineered foam, and find out how neuroscientists are trying to get into...


Talking Therapy

When we’re stressed, upset, feeling down, or off, most of us have things we do to decompress. Things we find therapeutic — maybe it’s listening to music, working with our hands, or unplugging for a while. But sometimes these mood boosters don’t do the trick and it seems like it’s time to talk to a professional. During the pandemic, more people sought counseling than ever before. But the process of therapy can still seem a bit opaque. What exactly happens in therapy? How does it work? And...


Immersed in Nature

Imagine yourself out in nature — away from all the noise and the distractions of our lives. You can smell the rich scents of the forest, you can hear birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves, insects buzzing. It can feel calming, and invigorating. Now, imagine yourself alone in the forest for days, and weeks, looking for shelter from the elements and food to eat. That probably sounds more unsettling or scary than calming, right? On this episode, we explore how our experiences in nature...


What We Get Wrong about Black Health

In 2018, journalist Linda Villarosa wrote an article in The New York Times Magazine that kicked off a national conversation about health disparities. It showed that Black mothers and their babies in the U.S. were dying at more than double the rate of their white peers, and it pulled back the curtain on how those statistics related to racism. For Villarosa, it had been a long road linking health disparities to racism. In the beginning of her career, she was a big believer in self-help,...


The Future of Embryo Selection

IVF clinics have long tested embryos for genetic disorders and abnormalities — but in recent years, new startups have been pushing the envelope of genetic testing, helping parents screen their future children for all kinds of health risks, ranging from diabetes to breast cancer. Many people see this technology as promising — it can give parents, many of whom have already faced devastating losses, their best shot at having happy, healthy children. But others see a dark side to the advancing...


Range of Emotion

Emotions are fleeting — they can bubble up seemingly out of nowhere and change quickly. Studying them is challenging, but it’s also important. Emotions not only shape our day-to-day lives, they also influence our behavior, the decisions we make, and the relationships that sustain us. Sometimes, they can be overwhelming — so knowing what fuels them offers us a better chance of getting a handle on them. Increasingly, understanding emotions is also a big business — it can make the difference...


Chasing Sleep

Sleep — we all need it, but most people aren’t getting enough of it. Ideally, we spend about a third of our lives asleep. When we’re well rested, we feel like we can take on the world. But when we’re not, we find ourselves exhausted, cranky, moody, forgetful … and our overall health takes a hit. Clearly, sleep is important. The question is — why? What happens when we sleep? What makes it such an important part of our survival? And what’s stopping us from getting our best rest? On this...


Inside the Minds of Thrill Seekers

Skydiving, BASE jumping, climbing the highest peaks, adventuring to remote parts of the world — pushing the boundaries of safety. For thrill-seekers, chasing the rush is what it’s all about. Where lots of us would break into a cold sweat, they experience something different: calm, focus, even moments of sublime awe. So what is it that makes thrill-seekers different? On this episode, we investigate what fuels their desire for adventure, and ask when the pursuit of kicks becomes dangerous and...