How Social Media and Nursing Coexist in 2018

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Social media is one of the most addictive and widespread modern developments of the 20th and 21st centuries. It makes the world smaller, makes the exchange of ideas and opinions faster, and makes sharing everything from feelings to photos easier than ever before. Of course, with such unbidden access to each other’s lives, social media can also be dangerous in different ways, especially in the workplace. People have lost their jobs, credentials, and even spots at institutions of higher learning over what they’ve posted on social media. Similarly, however, social media has become a cornerstone of credibility for many individuals, businesses and organizations, making entities with a social media presence much more trustworthy and relatable. This is true of many professions, from musicians, writers, artists, and actors to businesses moguls, entrepreneurs, scientists, and even medical professionals. Among medical professionals are nurses and nursing students, a sect of which have an interesting relationship with social media. In fact, the relationship between social media and nursing is intricate and nuanced, developing over time to the point that they now coexist in 2018 in various ways. So, how exactly do social media and nursing coexist in 2018? This article will explore the positives, negatives, and everything between social media and nursing.

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The Positives: Education, Communication, Development, and Awareness

Social media and nursing go hand in hand when it comes to education, communication, and awareness. Nurses have slowly been integrating social media into how they interact with patients, relay information, and provide news and education to people at large. For example, should there be an outbreak of a certain illness, a concern of an infectious disease, or directions about preemptive and cautionary measures to take to bolster and protect health, social media is a great way to get the word out quickly and concisely to large numbers of people. What’s more, people can respond to social media posts and begin a dialogue with health professionals so that they can learn about procedures, treatments, and illness more in more depth, as well as have their questions answers, learn more about certain topics, and have quick and easy access to a trustworthy professional source.

In addition, social media also plays a large role in nursing education. Social media can be used to help nursing students connect, collaborate, and even learn nursing materials. In 2018 especially, social media is widely used among students and professors, with many instructors and students befriending or “following” on another on social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. These connections can lead to class groups and discussion outside of lecture hours where materials, ideas, and questions are exchanged between colleagues.  As nursing students finish their programs, social media can help them land a job as well. The use of social media to start a job search and connect with potential employers is on the rise thanks to sites like LinkedIn. In fact, job candidates are viewed as more credible and desirable if they have a LinkedIn account where all their credentials and experience are readily listed for recruiters to view and assess. For a full list of how social media and nursing work for instructors and students, read here.

Finally, social media is useful in nursing to build up brands, either personal brands or that of your organization. Creating and maintaining a brand leads to professional development and growth that only social media can foster.  Your brand can connect you with your peers, other professionals, and even poise you for potential jobs thanks to your follower count and content. Developing a brand is not easy, but it certainly is rewarding when done well.

The Negatives: Privacy, Confidentiality, and Unprofessional Conduct

While social media and nursing coexisting comes with plenty of positives, it also has some pretty serious negatives as well. The main issues with social media and nursing are the breach of privacy and confidentiality as well as the chance for unprofessional conduct. The phrase, “If in doubt, don’t” comes to mind when considering how professionals should behave on social media. Many people have been screened out of interviews or even fired from positions because of their unprofessional social media presence, and things are even worse in the medical field. As part of being a medical professional, privacy and confidentiality are especially important. It should be noted that privacy and confidentiality are similar but different concepts: privacy is “the patient’s expectation to be treated with dignity and respect” while confidentiality is “safeguarding patient information.” A breach of either privacy or confidentiality could result in some serious consequences, making the use of social media as a nurse somewhat tricky. If trust is broken in any way, whether intentionally or not, it greatly damages the nurse/patient relationship as well as any trustworthiness of the nurse and the profession at large.

Further, federal law enforces the importance of privacy through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). which means a breach of privacy could be punishable by law depending on the severity of the breach. To be clear, a breach could be sharing any identifiable information pertaining to the past, present, future, physical or mental health of a patient with the public. When it comes to social media, this could be a Tweet about a patient, a post or story on Instagram, or a shared story on Facebook. Even if you think the story you’re sharing is inspirational, informational, or worth sharing, you must remember that posting information about others without their consent, especially in the healthcare field, could be dangerous on various levels.

Finally, unprofessional conduct is one of the largest pitfalls and biggest disadvantage when it comes to social media and nursing. The most important thing to remember is that when you belong to a company and work in a certain field, your online presence is not just about you anymore. Though it may be your personal Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or SnapChat account, it is still a reflection of the company or organization that hired you, making whatever you post or say something by which they may be scrutinized or judged. Further, unprofessional conduct can stop you from getting a job altogether. No matter your credentials or how qualified you may be, if your potential future employer finds questionable posts and conduct on your socials, it could show them that you are not actually a candidate they want on board.

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The Gray Area: Should Social Media and Nursing Coexist?

So we’ve seen the positives and the negatives of social media and nursing, but the question remains: should they coexist? Should nurses use social media at all? Is there a way to use social media without jeopardizing your nursing license? The answer is varied.

The danger of social media lies in unprofessional conduct and breaching patient privacy and confidentiality. This would mean never posting about work, colleagues, work stories, or patients. But what of educational and awareness purposes? Surely such social media posts will be about nursing and healthcare related topics. The best way to find a compromise to is to keep your personal social media handles completely private and to only post for education and awareness purposes through designated handles with expressed permission by a superior. The key is knowing how to use social media intelligently with nursing. If the post is approved, helpful, educational, and important to the public, then it is safe to share. If the post is coming from your personal account and involves other people who have not or cannot give their consent, it’s best left unshared. Further, even on your personal socials, you should practice a certain level of class and sophistication, meaning no cussing, no inappropriate photos or videos, avoiding vulgar topics, and the like.

In the end, social media is a blessing and a curse and should be handled with care and caution. When it comes to social media and nursing, make sure to take advantage of social media’s positives while staying thoughtful about professional and appropriate online conduct. Happy posting!