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Have you defined your personal privacy settings?

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Student Nursing Times has been having an interesting debate on how much information about themselves nurses should share.

Not too long ago this would have been restricted to discussing face-to-face contact, but social media have changed that. They have made personal lives public and made it easy to find anyone with a presence on the internet – particularly those who aren’t acquainted with the privacy settings of Facebook and the like. While the NMC has issued advice on the use of social media, its main focus is on professional issues.

But being social media savvy isn’t just about protecting patient confidentiality and avoiding public displays of unprofessional behaviour. It’s also about self-protection.

If you know their name it is easy to find and follow people on Twitter, or friend them on Facebook. And it doesn’t take much additional information to find more about them, such as where they live or socialise.

Nurses come into contact with many people going through difficult times, and as the professionals with the most patient contact, individual nurses can come to symbolise entire care episodes in people’s minds. It is almost inevitable that some – be they patients or their relatives and friends – will form attachments or fixations with nurses.

The vast majority of these will be harmless; some may be welcome, and may even become friendships that endure after the patient is discharged. However, even if we disregard the risk posed by a tiny minority who may have malign intentions, nurses need to be able to control how much access they allow to their private lives. If they don’t, they risk being overwhelmed by patients and visitors wanting to be their best friend.

Nursing demands a huge amount of emotional labour – you need to be able to comfort a newly bereaved family one minute and joke with a cheerful patient the next. And while you’re expected to provide compassionate care, you also need to be able to switch off when you leave work or you’ll burn out.

So when it comes to giving personal information about yourself, it’s a good idea to define your own privacy settings – both for your cyber self and IRL*.

* In real life

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