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Alumni Profile: John Brownlee ’93

John Brownlee ’93, co-founder and CEO of vidscrip

John Brownlee ’93 came up with the idea for vidscrip while on the phone with his mom. “She had just been to see a doctor for her rheumatoid arthritis and was trying to explain the details of her condition. Like it is for everyone, it was difficult for her to remember exactly what the doctor said. I thought, ‘this is crazy that we’re forgetting what our doctors tell us when we’re all carrying around high-definition cameras right in our pockets.’”

Brownlee’s stroke of inspiration became his business when he co-founded vidscrip, an app now used worldwide to facilitate communication between doctors and patients through video. Since the company’s origin in 2012, vidscrip has partnered with thousands of healthcare professionals to record their answers and expertise, including authorities at Harvard Health Publications, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Irish Cancer Society, and Partners Healthcare. Patients can also record and upload videos of their own doctors answering health questions, as long as they grant permission first. These informative videos can then be revisited according to patient need, saving physicians’ time.

“If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, as soon as the words, ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer’ come out of your doctor’s mouth, you don’t hear a word they say for the next 20 minutes. From a patient standpoint, being able to go back and revisit their doctor’s knowledge and advice is invaluable,” says Brownlee.

As vidscrip’s co-founder and CEO, Brownlee is honored to have played a role in facilitating effective health communication that makes a positive difference in people’s lives. “I was watching vidscrips created by Mass General Hospital in Boston, and I came across one of a tiny baby lying on a hospital bed with a tracheotomy tube in her neck. The doctor was training the baby’s grandmother to replace that tube,” says Brownlee. “It’s one of our most watched videos, and people aren’t watching videos about a baby’s tracheotomy for fun. These are people with tiny kids who are sick, and vidscrip is right in the middle so that when they go home, they can confidently care for their grandchild or loved one. It’s an honor to have even a small part in that journey.”

While at Bethel, Brownlee began his college career as a self-described “lazy” student. “I started out at Bethel just taking the basic classes and not doing well in school at all. I had a 2.3 GPA,” he laughs. Then he took Tim Essenburg’s economics class.

“I loved it. I loved every second of it. I went up to Essenburg after class one day, probably very cocky, and said, ‘Hey, Essenburg, I want you to be my advisor and I want to change my major to economics.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah...no.’ I was upset, and he continued, ‘I’ve seen your grades, you’re obviously capable but you’re not applying yourself, and so I’m not interested.”

Of course after this, Brownlee decided he absolutely had to be an econ major. “Essenburg said he would accept me as his advisee under one condition: I had to receive a 3.8 GPA from there on out. So I did,” says Browlee. “Everything at Bethel changed for me at that point. I had a mentor who was invested in my life, and to this day Tim and I are good friends.”

“I think a lot of students have stories like that—professors who changed their lives. For me, Tim changed my life by challenging how I was coasting through. He told me, ‘what you’re doing now, it’s not enough. Because you’re capable of more. I’m not going to tolerate you being a slacker,’” says Brownlee. “He showed me that there is great joy in putting forth the work and doing it right.”

Brownlee lives with his wife Melanie and two sons, Quin and Ian, in Victoria, Minnesota.

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