Go to YouTube, type “medical school” in the search bar, and you’ll soon come across a photo of Shaun Andersen with UNLV School of Medicine backpacks and a welcome box full of school gear UNLV medical students receive prior to their first day of class.
This particular video that Andersen is promoting — one of dozens he’s shot about his medical school journey — is titled “The Week Before Medical School.”
Viewed more than 140,000 times, the video basically shows him opening his backpacks and welcome box in his apartment and commenting on the more than a dozen items inside — including an Apple iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and smart keyboard as well as a UNLV School of Medicine Class of 2024 T-shirt and a copy of the Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association.
After watching Andersen’s vlog, one viewer wrote: “My med school just gave me anxiety. I feel cheated.”
Andersen’s YouTube channel now has more than 27,000 subscribers — many of whom are college students who aspire to medical school. Subscribing at no cost, they watch his weekly posts that last less than 20 minutes on topics that include, “First Week in Medical School,” “First Day in Medical School,” “A Busy Week in Medical School,” “Finishing the Hardest Block in Medical School,” and “My Medical School Apartment.”
When it comes to filming and editing, he does everything on his own. He shoots his videos on his iPhone 11 Pro. “I like to be able to just pull my phone out at any given moment (he’ll stand it up against a book so it faces him) and film what I am doing or quickly talk to the camera about any thoughts I am having.” Sending the video clips to his computer, he edits his videos using Final Cut Pro on his MacBook.
If you’re looking for Andersen to make biting put-downs during this entrée into social media, you won’t find it. What he serves up for viewers is simply a positive sharing of the experiences of a young man on his way to becoming a physician. Advertisers have liked his work and started sponsoring it. “I never thought I’d make money off it,” said Andersen, whose vlogs have brought in more than $8,000 in ad money.
“I felt like I needed to share my medical school experiences with others, so it wasn’t wasted,” he said. “That was when I had the idea to start a YouTube channel. I started posting some basic videos such as, ‘How I Studied for the MCAT (medical school entrance exam),’ ‘My Entire Medical School Application,’ and ‘Interview Advice.’ Once medical school started, I decided to completely focus on vlogging my experiences in school.”
One man who found Andersen’s YouTube channel was School of Medicine Dean Marc Kahn.
“When I was first asked to come speak with him, I was nervous that I had messed up or said something wrong,” Andersen recalled. “It turns out the dean really liked what I was doing and wanted to know more about it. He enjoyed hearing why I started and encouraged me to keep on documenting my journey. It was extremely reassuring. Putting myself out there on social media can be scary, but this experience has been more rewarding than anything.”
Andersen’s journey to medical school was far from a sure thing. Even though he was largely an A and B student, he didn’t study hard and flunked a biology class at Centennial High School and a math class at UNLV. “I really didn’t have much motivation,” he said. That all changed, he said, the more involved he became with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the nonprofit that fulfills the wishes of children who have critical illnesses. He became a wish granter, working very closely with children who often have little time left in their lives.
“While ‘Wish Kids’ battled for their lives, their doctors were always there for them and encouraged a positive outlook,” Andersen said. “It occurred to me that they were the real superheroes. That was when I was sure I wanted to pursue medicine.”
Because his first two years at UNLV were less than academically sterling, an adviser suggested his goal of becoming a physician might be unrealistic and encouraged him to think in terms of another profession. “People thinking I couldn’t do something really bothered me,” Andersen said. “Once I decided on medicine, I became more academically inclined and saw a drastic change in my passion for school. I became a straight-A student, and I believe it is truly because I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.”
When Andersen puts his mind to it, there seems little he can’t do. At 14, he saw some videos of acrobats doing flips. “I thought that would be cool to do.” So he went out to a park with friends and started trying to do them. He also went to local gyms and soon did some benefit shows for Make-A-Wish in Las Vegas. At 18, he was spotted in Las Vegas doing his tricks by a representative of All Wheel Sports, a sports production company. “I got to work professionally, spending the summer of my first two years of college flying out to the East Coast to perform in acrobat shows,” he noted. One of his favorite tricks is running up a wall where there's a trampoline that allows him to bounce off and do a triple flip on the way down.
“Four years before, I saw acrobats on TV on America's Got Talent from All Wheel Sports, “ he recalled. “It was kind of cool to go to work for them. But I never really thought of making a career of it. It’s too hard on your body. There’s a lot of wear and tear on your body, pulled muscles. I like it more as fun.” Today, he still regularly finds time to practice tricks at a local gym.
In high school, Andersen used his acrobatic talent to become a diver for the Centennial High School swim team, advancing to the state finals one year. He also enjoys cliff diving, with his highest dives coming from four- to six-stories high. He’s stopped cliff diving at Lake Mead, he said, because people throw too much dangerous refuse into the water. He’s now found a place near St. George, Utah, to practice his cliff dives.
A triplet — his brother got his degree in business marketing and his sister graduated with a degree in hospitality and hotel administration — Andersen said he’s fortunate to have parents who believe in education. “Although paying for three college tuitions at the same time is expensive, it is something that was seen as very important to them,” he said. Andersen’s mother, a native of India, is vice president for risk management for Diamond Resorts International. His father, a native of Denmark who now manages the family’s real estate holdings, is a former stunt man who worked on Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock film and enjoyed bodybuilding with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Once he becomes a physician, Andersen said he’ll continue making videos.
“One of the biggest problems in medicine is the lack of general medical knowledge that patients have,” he said. “Medical outcomes can be improved just by patients having stronger base knowledge about the conditions they or their loved ones have. If we want people to know more about medicine and to become more literate in our field, then we need to reach them where they are — the internet.”