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In defence of social media


The way we use social media never seems to be out of the news these days, and those who work and live in the public eye are often under scrutiny.

Recently, a children’s nurse in Wales, Allison Marie Hopton, was suspended by the NMC for six months after posting inappropriate statuses and photos online, and she’s not the first. Despite this, the NMC say they are “enthusiastic” about social networking sites, describing Facebook as “really useful”.

As students, we’re given mixed messages on the use of social media. In the first few days of my degree, I was told to lock down my Facebook profile or better still, delete my account altogether, but hours later somebody different was extolling the virtues of connecting with the university on Twitter. Last month, staff at the Trust I was assigned to told us the story of a nurse who was stalked by a patient after he used information on her Facebook profile to work out which pubs she went to. A few days later, a lecturer at university announced the official hashtag for our next module! With such conflicting advice coming from all directions, it’s easy to see why so many people think social media is just too risky.

But universities and employers don’t need to fear social media. The NMC’s guidelines are full of sound advice, and there are many more savvy nurses using social media without getting into trouble than those being hauled before fitness to practice panels. In fact  the NMC estimated in 2011 that over 350,000 healthcare professionals actively used Facebook.

The positives of social media are enormous, from bringing students and qualified nurses together to get answers to their questions, bringing new light and ideas to the playing field; to sharing ideas and opinions with other members of multi-disciplinary teams like doctors, midwives and paramedics.

It enables us to talk to students from other branches – my university didn’t take on any learning disability nurses in my cohort, but Twitter provides that link for me. It’s also allowed me to make connections with lecturers who I wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with because they solely teach other branches, but still have valuable insight to share.

So, whether you’re participating in a twitchat like the weekly #SNTTwitchat (Fridays at 1pm) or joining a discussion on a recent news story, getting advice ahead of your first night shift, or you just want to say what a positive day you had, social media is a great place for connecting to other people in the profession. With resources like WeNurses’ Twitterversity, it’s easier than ever to share knowledge and support each other, get involved and stay out of trouble.

Just remember:

  • your privacy is only as good as other people’s: unless you know and trust everyone your friends are connected to, avoid that “friends of friends” privacy option!
  • you are in the public eye: assume that everything you post could be made public at some point in the future. If you don’t want it being shared with the whole world, don’t hit that send button.
  • stay professional: think through what you’ve written before you hit send and if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online!

Katie Sutton is the Student Nursing Times editor for Mental Health branch


Readers' comments (4)

  • Rachael Starkey

    This is a great article Katie, it's brilliant to see some sensible advice set out! I think many universities are a bit 'behind the times' when it comes to SoMe, but in reality we will use it- so it would be helpful if they taught us how to use it safely and for the benefit of our careers, rather than the mixed messages (and often fear-mongering!) we currently seem to get

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  • Louise Goodyear

    Brilliant article Katie, well done!
    Social media is like you say a resource that we can all use, as long as we are sensible and take the NMC guidelines and also University guidelines before we post anything.
    Social media like Facebook and Twitter are a vast cavern of information and networking opportunity, I am already reaping the benefits of being social media savvy(even in my old age!!!)

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  • Katie Sutton

    Thanks for your comments, Rachael and Louise! I'm glad you're finding social media so useful!

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  • In my personal life, I've avoided opening social media accounts - which often leaves me in the minority and out of the loop, but nonetheless, content with my lot.

    I'm due to start a mental health nursing degree with the next intake, and reading more of these blogs, I'm starting to appreciate just how beneficial twitter, and maybe even Facebook could be (it'd be my intention to only use them for academic/professional means)

    Question: are there any forums that well seasoned social media users can recommend, relating to nursing/mental health?)


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