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OPINION - Be virtually invisible

Social networking for student nurses


It’s easy to use social networking sites to blow off steam, but it’s vital to be aware that whatever you write may be seen by more people than you ever intended, says student nurse Andrew R Kett

In the last ten years the online world has changed dramatically and thanks to the invention of social media we now exchange ideas, feelings, personal information, pictures and videos at a truly astonishing rate. Websites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr give the user another vessel by which to share the experience of life. With modern smartphones bearing more in common with the home PC than the humble telephone, data can be transferred from almost anywhere in the country in the blink of an eye to hundreds, and even thousands of people.

‘This isn’t a comprehensive guide so always think twice before putting anything on the internet.’

The internet allows us an almost infinite toolbox to interact with our friends and colleagues. Sites like Twitter enable users to build a massive network of people we’ve never met but share common ideas and interests with (in 140 characters or less). You can even connect directly with TV and sports personalities, authors, publishers, producers. Even the NMC are only a mouse click away.

Unfortunately this new and limitless potential for communication and interaction has a darker and slightly more sinister side to it. Now barely a day passes now without some story or another, hitting the pages of the national newspapers, often involving those in often privileged positions. Nursing is one of the fields under close scrutiny, and in recent years nurses have been disciplined or even sacked for their thoughtless, overzealous or sometimes downright dangerous use of these new outlets. Examples range from student nurses being pictured doing lines of cocaine, staff on duty playing the “lying down” game, or simply idle chit-chat about patient cases with minimal thought to who else might be able to see.

A more extreme case of discipline recently saw a student teacher in the United States ejected from her course just days before graduation after a picture appeared on MySpace of her wearing a pirate hat at a party and drinking a soft drink from a plastic cup with the caption “drunken pirate”, thus highlighting the lengths that some establishments will go to if they feel a threat to their reputation.

However fear not, before you run for the hills, bury your head in the sand, or change your name by deed poll, all is not lost and it is possible to exist in the digital world without compromising your life in the real world,

The NMC code of conduct applies at all times to nurses and midwives (and their respective students) in the UK and everyone must obey its message to the letter in the real world. Adapting it for the virtual world is where most fall foul and in 2009 the NMC made an effort to address this in an additional student section to the code, however this was still open to interpretation and didn’t fully address potential issues.

How can you use social networks safely to ensure you protect your registration? 

  • Once you have put anything on the internet it is out of your hands. Don’t assume because you are hidden behind a wall of privacy settings, that you control your information. Anyone who can see what you’ve written or uploaded can make a copy and forward it on to others. If you wouldn’t be happy to say it to someone’s face don’t say it at all.

  • You’re an adult - so displaying as much or as little information about yourself is your decision!  Some things, however, are just common sense. For example never give out your address, phone number, email address, or full date of birth. Identity theft is still a major issue and it’s your registration as well as your name.  You also may not be too appreciative of a creepy character calling you in the middle of the night or worse knocking on your door.

  • They say a picture paints a thousand words and when trying to maintain a professional appearance this has never been more true. Those drunken snaps from Aunt Sally’s wedding or the bikini shot from your last trip to Malaga might not be the most appropriate selection for your Facebook profile picture, especially when perspective employers these days may well Google your name.

  • You’ve made sure all the pictures and videos you post online show the model nurse, and everything you write about obeys the code of conduct and portrays you as the next Florence Nightingale? Just remember all those people you call friends all have the potential to drop you in big trouble and it can be very difficult to control what they might say about you or post pictures or videos of. If somebody does post something you’re not happy about you can always ask them to take it down, but remember to be polite and professional about it - they might not feel very co-operative if you start shouting at them.

  • When things get on top of you resist the urge to address it with a torrent of online expletives. If you have a problem at work then talk to your immediate manager, as ranting and raving abusive messages all over the internet is not going to improve the situation or make you feel any better, but does make you look unprofessional ill-tempered and lacking in self-control.

  • Remember patient respect, dignity and confidentiality; if it relates to a patient best keep it offline. Social networks are a great tool for setting up meetings, but if you absolutely cannot meet in person then e-mail is the best medium for this and preferably a work e-mail address as this can always be printed and attached to patient notes if necessary.

This is not a comprehensive guide, the most important thing to remember is, it’s called “social media” and if you’re not happy to see what you’ve written in main stream media such as television or the newspapers then think twice before putting it on the internet yourself.  


Readers' comments (12)


    All to often the site is used against you by powers that be.

    The picture above for example would be seen as 'bringing the profession into disrepute'. (I know, how pathetic and low is that, but that's Nursing for you folks).

    I have known students who have gotten into trouble and even suspended for comments they put on that site.

    Watch your backs.

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  • I use Facebook to keep in touch with ex colleagues, school friends and family - To say nurses are not to use facebook is simply silly. If you're an adult and behave as such there is nothing to stop you using any medium - it's a simple matter of common sense.

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  • Not really anonymous, perhaps you haven't been witness to some of the witchhunting tactics I have seen used against colleagues. The NMC have a way of twisting and 'investigating' the most minor of things, just check out a few of the more spurious reasons they have for suspending people.

    I know I am biased because I do not use or like Facebook anyway (my friends all know me and I have a thing called a phone to keep in touch, so why share every aspect of my private life with everyone else?) I don't see the point. But whilst the NMC are out there, I think that just puts the final nail in for me.

    I agree it would be common sense not to put pictures of you acting like a drunken idiot on Facebook, but how many people do? How many people leave messages blowing off steam after a long, hard and stressful day? I'm not saying these will definately get you suspended or investigated, but they COULD do. And that is the danger. The NMC are like witchfinder generals, they are completely unnacountable and will ride roughshod over you and use Facebook against you. Is it worth it?

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  • Personally I don't understand why people have to make sure they 'behave' on facebook. Yes don't be stupid and discuss anything you shouldn't but that goes without saying. The whole business about photos of you when you might be slightly intoxicated though is surely up to you.
    As long as nothing relates to your work as a nurse I don't see how anyone can tell you what to do in your time away from work. Just my opinion.

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  • Anonymous | 8-Sep-2010 3:18 pm Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely agree with you. Our private life the second our shift finishes is OUR buisness alone and I don't think anyone should have the right to dictate or comment on that.

    However, the NMC disagree and the fact is they DO ruin peoples careers over things like this. It is wrong, I agree with you, but it happens. So all I'm saying is, I suggest noone uses it, and everyone watches their backs with the witchfinder generals.

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  • Registered nurses and midwives are searchable on the NMC register by anyone. I think this is also the case for social workers. But try searching for other registered professionals such as school teachers, their lists are not disclosed to the general public, which would have been much more sensible if the NMC also applied this to their registers.

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  • Anonymous | 12-Sep-2010 10:18 am Excellent point I totally agree with you. Where is our protection in all of this? It just feels like we are painting a massive target on our backs by registering.

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  • Steve Williams

    Alas, mike is bang on target as usual. The NMC really does not have a vestige of "compassion" when it comes to anyone on their register.

    Anonymous | 12-Sep-2010 10:18 am is exactly right. The NMC will hang their own membership out to dry in a heartbeat.

    WHY? I haven't the foggiest.

    BUT it does prove one point to me... nursing is NOT a profession (and never will be!)

    How many other professional bodies do you know of e.g. Doctors, Lawyers, architects (Jeez even the police) would SO actively seek to make a Judas goat of one of their own members.

    Don't get me wrong, I am not in favour of the old 'Goat-shaggers'" ploy of closing ranks to protect guilty comrades but blimey I wouldn't expect a professional body to place me in a blatant moral 'double-bind' situation either.

    In case you are wondering a classic case of the NMC's dysfunctional mentality that instantly springs to my mind is the 'whistle-blower' scenario... "If you don't report abuse we will take away your license to practice - but if you report it and end up losing your job, we won't support you in any way, shape or form."

    That's just one example of many I can quote.

    No "real" profession would tolerate this sort of schizophrenic dictatorship from their ruling body. Who voted these 'winkles' into the job in the first place?

    Oh yeah, the RCN's twin-set-and-pearls brigade mostly!

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  • The RCN is just a quango ran by middle aged, middle class women. It's why its so rubbish and ineffective.

    The NMC is also a quango and should be abolished and replaced by a proper governing body.

    These two organisations are the reason nursing is in such a state.

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  • I am neither middle aged, or middle class... and as a member, I am the RCN...
    But off course, why work for change when you can critique the work of others.

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