Social Media and Nursing

Last week I attended an on-line webinar titled, “Nursing Guidelines for Using Social Media,” hosted by representatives from the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).  Both organizations recently published guidelines for nurses on the responsible use of social media, and the speakers discussed the recommendations in the context of real-world nursing scenarios.

Social media offers tremendous opportunity for professional growth because if provides a platform for nurses to communicate, collaborate, and inform.  It has transformed how we interact with our colleagues and patients.  I can use Facebook to share important health-related articles and to keep up with happenings at the School of Nursing at my alma mater.  I can learn about events at my local health care services provider on Twitter, and stay on top of issues that impact nurses by frequenting and commenting on discussion forums for nurses.

In their book From Silence to Voice, Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon wrote that talking about nursing is our moral imperative.  Blogs, like Theresa Brown’s (, have afforded us an accessible means of sharing stories about our practice so that the public better understands what we do and why it’s so important.

And yet, there is also tremendous potential for misuse.  In fact, according to a 2010 survey of boards of nursing, 33 of the 46 responders reported receiving complaints about nurses who violated patient privacy through the use of social networking sites.  Our use of social media has the potential to blur the lines between the nurse-patient relationship and to reflect poorly on our profession or our place of work.  Nurses at a hospital in Wisconsin were fired for taking a cell phone picture of a patient’s x-ray and posting it on the internet.  Nurses at a hospital in California were disciplined for discussing a patient’s case on Facebook. There are many other examples.

Despite the potential pitfalls, we shouldn’t avoid the use of social media; we should simply use it responsibly.  Reflect on boundaries that may be crossed when thinking about accepting a patient’s friend request on Facebook.  Consider the difference between venting about a challenging day in an on-line forum and in a chat with friends over a drink after work.  Be vigilant about safeguarding your patient’s privacy.  Know your institution’s policy on the use of social media.  If one doesn’t exist, advocate for and participate in the development of one.  Be familiar with the guidance ANA and NSBCA provided on the use of social media.

But don’t stop talking about nursing.

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