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Arts, Sports & Culture

How a local ICU nurse uses TikTok to celebrate everyday Pittsburghers

TikTok Hunter Prosper online internet social media
Hunter Prosper
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TikTok Screenshots
Screenshots from a few of Hunter Prosper's TikTok videos.

If you’re one of the many people who downloaded the social media app TikTok during the pandemic, you may have seen videos from Hunter Prosper. The 25-year-old ICU nurse has been posting uplifting person-on-the-street-style content since February. His page has more than 2.7 million followers and he’s gotten more than 59 million likes on his videos.

Prosper, who works at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, said he started the page as a form of therapy.

“It started as a sort of reaction towards my own burnout at work,” Prosper said. “I guess other people found a liking for it, too.”

Before Prosper moved to the ICU, he worked as a resource nurse and said he was able to interact with multiple patients. He’d listen to their stories, learn about their lives and ask them for life advice. On several of his videos, he relays memories from centenarian patients.

@hunterprosper

Every stranger has a story, let’s start reading @werenotreallystrangers

♬ where is my mind - jewel :*

But working in the ICU is stressful, and Prosper said he wasn’t able to talk with patients, as many of them were on ventilators or unable to respond.

“I felt like I was losing empathy,” he said. “So I would bring up stories of patients that they told me through my years of nursing, and it kind of reminded me how special everyone is.”

His videos now feature him asking sentimental questions to people on the street: Questions like: “What was the name of your first love, and why did you fall in love with them?”

Hunter Prosper TikTok ICU nurse.JPG
Courtesy of Hunter Prosper
Hunter Prosper, 25, says making the TikTok videos is a way for him to cope with an often stressful work situation at the ICU.

“It would be Kirsten, and I'm married to Kirsten now,” said one respondent, Alan. “I was playing with a little quartet at a art museum. She was a custodian on duty. Initially, she approached me about taking some lessons and we got together and she goes, ‘I don't want to take lessons.’”

Cheryl, in another video, talked about her first love, Rufus: “He knew where my mom lives, so he left me a little invitation. What did the invitation say? He'd like to get to know me better? And he did.”

“What did you learn from your first heartbreak?” Prosper also asks.

“People should explore relationships just to learn about themselves and other people and what a relationship entails,” Katie says in a video. “Grieving is important. Think about who you are and your strengths and feel empowered that the next time you do things better, you'll know what to look for.”

The questions Prosper chooses, he says “are a process of just trying to get the most depth out of a person with a question we can all relate to.”

Prosper has some ground rules for his videos: He doesn’t solicit just anyone. Rather, they have to walk in the opposite direction of him, smile and say “Hey.”

“Then they’ve officially engaged,” he said.

The raw videos range from 25-45 minutes, Prosper said, so he has to do some heavy editing to get them to the 45 seconds for TikTok. He’ll often include Pittsburgh scenes, like the Cathedral of Learning or a sunset over the city.

@hunterprosper

Every stranger has a beautiful story, let’s start reading @werenotreallystrangers

♬ where is my mind - jewel :*

Prosper says his favorite comments on videos are ones that say a viewer’s “faith in humanity” has been restored. On a social media platform that often showcases celebrities and influencers, he says he’s glad to celebrate everyday neighbors.

“You don't have to be Brad Pitt in Hollywood to have a really cool story,” Prosper said. “You can be this person walking on the streets of Bloomfield and your story can be just as beautiful as the next person.”