Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
Hunter Prosper became an ICU nurse during the COVID pandemic.
So, as you can probably guess, there’s not much he hasn’t seen.
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Like most healthcare workers around the world, Prosper has had–to put it lightly–an exhausting couple of years. By the start of 2021, 13-hour shifts and an endless roster of critically injured and ill patients had him close to burning out.
As a sort of self-therapy, he started uploading videos to TikTok. His early clips were mishmash glimpses of his life as a nurse: the occasional on-shift shenanigan and the late-night journeys home.
Then, for his fourth video, he began sharing stories from his patients.
@hunterprosper for HIPAA reasons the patients name was Bill #nurse #mentalhealth #storytime ♬ jocelyn flores ~ lofi – Closed on Sunday
Prosper believes everyone has a story to tell. And with that first video (where the patient’s name and identity was kept anonymous, per HIPAA), he realized how much he enjoyed sharing what his patients had to say–and how much his TikTok followers liked to listen to them.
The more Prosper talked to patients about their lives and wisdom, the more he began to think about people outside of his workplace. As he puts it, “The person next to the stop sign or sitting across from you on the subway, they have a beautiful story full of heartbreak, struggle, and triumph.”
These days, he tells those people’s stories, too. Over the past year, Prosper has become a travel nurse, meaning he travels around the country from hospital to hospital. And wherever he’s gone, he’s not only talked to patients, but strangers. His TikTok account has become a trove of more than 150 “stories from strangers,” often folks he meets on the street and asks a random question, like “Who was your first love?” or “What’s the most pain you’ve felt that wasn’t physical?” or “Is there anything you miss?”
Prosper’s tale-telling has taken his TikTok account from zero followers to more than 4.3 million, and currently sees him bring in around 80 million views per month. For him, finding this TikTok notability hasn’t changed much. He’s still a nurse, and wants to continue being a nurse. It’s just that now, he’s also a storyteller.
Check out our chat with him below.
@hunterprosperEvery stranger has a story, let’s start reading.♬ where is my mind – jewel :*
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! Where did you grow up? When did you know that you wanted to get into medicine, and what made you pick ICU nursing?
Hunter Prosper: I grew up in a very small town called Emporium, Pennsylvania. I actually started in college as an English major. I loved speaking and writing, and thought making a career out of it would be fun. I quickly learned it was more of a hobby for me, and my mom suggested I try something in the medical field. And since mothers are always right, it ended up being a perfect match.
I started as a resource nurse (goes to all different types of units) after I graduated, then started doing ICU about a year into my career. That ended up being when the pandemic started too, so it was a bit of a learning curve for me at first. I chose ICU because I enjoy the autonomy you often get coupled with seeing a patient go from extremely ill to back to their baseline. Watching a patient return to their health, and knowing you had something to do with it, is such an intrinsic reward. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe, but I find myself chasing it every day.
Tubefilter: You started your TikTok account in early 2021. Why did you decide to start making videos? Did it have anything to do with the pandemic? Had you made videos on other platforms before, or was this your first time creating?
HP: I found filming videos to be therapy for myself. I was suffering from burnout, which I didn’t notice at the time, and making videos was a way for me to cope with what I was seeing daily. The ICU really showed me the mortality of life. It was a culture shock to enter the ICU. I found humanity in sharing patient stories (with their privacy respected, of course). The goal was to help others, as well as myself, find silver linings in a lot of the suffering or hardships I was seeing. I also saw sharing their stories as an homage to them. After all, it wasn’t me affecting millions of people, it was really them. Recently, I’ve decided to look to the rest of the world for stories.
Tubefilter: When did you notice your account starting to take off? Was there a specific video that went viral and helped grow your account, or did viewership go up across a bunch of videos?
HP: My patient story videos were gaining popularity right off the bat. The first video I made in January had half a million views. But it was a slow growth from there until about June, when my girlfriend suggested that I go to the streets for stories. She said that I have a charisma about myself that makes others comfortable to share (her words not mine, haha) and that gave me the confidence to do it. I gained about 2 million followers in one month, and it’s been trending up since.
The numbers have never mattered to me, though, I just love the fact that so many people get to see the lives and hear the stories of all these amazing strangers we have in the world. The videos help make me feel more comfortable with the world around me, and I hope it does the same to the viewers.
@hunterprosperEvery stranger has a story, let’s start reading <3♬ where is my mind – jewel :*
Tubefilter: One thing we noticed about your content is that it has a very distinct visual brand. Most of your videos have picturesque thumbnails with full-screen captions in large, clear font. How did you arrive at this style? Why is it important for you to have your videos look uniform?
HP: I grew up watching YouTube and I heard someone say once that your page should be treated like a museum. It sounds a little pretentious and honestly it probably doesn’t matter, but to me the thumbnail helps organize your content and I take a lot of pride in it.
The captions have always been an important part of my videos because in the first video I made a wonderful comment said they absolutely loved my video, but their little sister couldn’t watch because she was deaf. So I like to make sure my videos are art for everyone, no exclusions. I don’t randomly generate captions, instead I take the time to add my own personal style to them.
Tubefilter: For those who may not know a lot about your profession, what’s your work life like? How long are your shifts? What are the kinds of injuries and illnesses you’re commonly dealing with? Is there anything people may be surprised to learn about ICU nursing?
HP: Shifts are around 13 hours, and that’s typically on your feet, especially since I work at level one trauma hospitals. That essentially means the hospital is equipped and trusted to care for the sickest and most critical patients. I see a variety of different patients. During the pandemic, I worked in the Covid ICU. Patients were admitted there when they got to that point in their illness that it was life-threatening. But overall, the ICU I worked in was called the Medical ICU and we saw patients in respiratory failure, kidney failure, heart failure, really anything could come to that unit, with a main focus being respiratory problems.
I then became a travel nurse, and currently work in the neuro/surgical trauma ICU. Those patients tend to be vehicular accidents and problems associated after a very serious surgery. Still the hospitals are level one trauma, so I’m typically seeing the worst these areas have to offer.
People might be surprised at the burnout many medical workers can experience, especially in the ICU. There is an intense range of emotions that medical workers can experience in just a matter of an hour, and it’s just a usual Tuesday for them, so it’s easy to go home numb. As a medical worker, there’s a constant battle to remain in touch with your humanity, but this is a struggle that everyone in the world experiences, which is another reason why I felt the need to start making these videos. Seeing that we all have struggles and how we overcome them or at least keep pushing forward in a way brings us all closer.
Tubefilter: How do you balance doing your job, filming videos, and having a life outside of both those things?
HP: It’s hard sometimes, but mainly because I love doing both so much. In both instances, I get to help people, and that’s a privilege I take very seriously. I find that making the videos is my form of therapy, so it’s easy to find the motivation to go out there and to also edit them afterwards. Separating my work life from my life outside of work is something I had to develop as a survival mechanism. None of us would make it in this field if we took what we saw home with us. It’s a learning curve, which is why I went through the burnout. It’s not so much that you don’t take stuff home, but rather that you don’t let the stuff you take home affect who you are as a person.
@hunterprosper A life lesson from a 100 year old #nurse #mentalheath ♬ Claire de Lune – Ave Maria
Tubefilter: Has being on TikTok changed anything in your professional life? Do you have any professional aspirations for creating content, or are you planning to continue nursing and doing content on the side?
HP: In my professional life: no, not really. Maybe doctors or nurses will walk up to me or maybe a patient or two has seen my videos, but aside from that, those medical workers are so busy they could probably not care less, haha.
I’d love to maintain my role in healthcare. In what capacity, I can’t really say, but the feeling of helping people physically and knowing you had a direct role in saving their life is a feeling that is unmatched. I do plan on making content, and as the audience gets larger I understand the responsibility I have to keep helping them mentally. It’s a dual benefit and a win-win to do both for now! Making content is my therapy, and I’ll always need therapy, so I don’t see me slowing down anytime soon!
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of being on TikTok?
HP: I love the environment of the app. I didn’t get to see the beginning of YouTube, since I was too young, but I understand the content that we see now is nowhere near what the content was when it first started, and that’s what I get to witness firsthand on TikTok. It’s an app that’s in its infancy, but with such a strong foundation that its ceiling is a social media app that is as commonplace as all the other legacy social medias.
It’s different, though, in the fact that you’re allowed to be a hobbyist on it, but at any moment you can reach millions of people. That’s not something you see with really any other social media. It’s an app that fosters fun and playfulness. If you wanna be a big-time creator, go ahead, if you want to just make fun videos with your friends, go ahead, and if you want to scroll through videos and not even upload a profile pic, go ahead! The culture is so good there.
Tubefilter: What do you hope people take away from your videos?
HP: The main focus has always been to highlight the fact that we all have a story, and that’s what makes us connected. You don’t have to be a movie star in Hollywood to “deserve” an interview and to give a beautiful response. You can be a blue-collar worker in a small neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and have your story touch the lives of 50 million people, just as I’ve shown. The person next to the stop sign or sitting across from you on the subway, they have a beautiful story full of heartbreak, struggle, and triumph, and I hope to showcase them as often as I can. Even you, reading this now, have a gorgeous story that would prove my theory right without a shadow of a doubt.
Tubefilter: Do you have anything planned for you and your channel in the coming months? Anything exciting in the works?
HP: Yeah! I recently became a travel nurse, which allows me to travel around the country showing that every stranger has a story. Eventually, I’d like to make it a global thing.
I’m working toward producing longer-form content, adding new content formats, and have a few exciting projects in the works that will need to remain a secret for now, haha.
I’ll just keep bringing us closer by making one less stranger at a time. These stories need to be heard, and I feel very lucky to be a conduit in making that happen.
Prosper is managed by Odd Projects.
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