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Social media: help or hindrance for student nurses?

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It occurred to me recently that it is amazing how much information you can get about someone just from a quick Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram search.

Social media has become the working diaries of our lives. We forget how much information is freely available to anyone who wants to look.

The NMC provide specific guidelines for student nurses in their use of social media. I have heard of students who have been called up to Fitness to Practice panels for what they have said online. I also know of a student who had issues with a patient messaging her regularly on Facebook. Consequently she reported this person to her mentor, filed an incident form and blocked the person.

I belong to an excellent forum on mental health nursing on Facebook. It has a wealth of resources including research topics, the ability to check legislation on mental health law and medications, and networking links. As a global forum with over 10,000 members It doeS have to be heavily administrated and there are people who dedicate a great amount of time to doing so. There was a live incident being reported on (no confidentiality was breached of course but the incident was ongoing) and someone accidently posted confidential information. Both incidents were swiftly deleted but it is a powerful reminder about how quickly information can be disseminated once it gets on to social media and how hard it is to take it back once it is out there.

We have all seen how easy it can be to ‘go viral’. More and more of our lives are now played out and displayed on the internet. Student nurses need to be able to use social media for the power of good.

Twitter, for example is a powerful tool for student and qualified nurses. However I do sometimes find it hard to type responses quickly enough and in line with the 140 character limit. On Twitter @Wenurses and @nurchat have been great tools for regular debates on topics. Chloe’s #SNTtwitchat about looking after children whilst on the course was great at providing a sense of community, common ground and support.

I was fortunate to attend the Chief Nursing Officer’s summit recently as part of the caremakers initiative. I was tweeting throughout the event but it felt really odd to sit there on my phone tweeting away.

I’m old enough (30) to remember a time before we even had regular access to computers, let alone mobile phones. I remember how disrespectful it used to be have your phone out in front of others. Indeed, with our multi-functioning smartphones, it must be difficult for lecturers to discern whether a student is using it to check a lecture note or to Facebook message a friend.

In short, I have the following tips regarding social media that you may find useful:

  • Check your privacy settings regularly to ensure you are happy with what you are sharing with others
  • Don’t put anything on social media you wouldn’t be happy to say to people face-to-face in the ‘real’ world
  • Always keep a professional tone, as if you were writing an email or answering the phone - even in personal conversations to an extent. Keep an open mind as to who can see your information, even if you have made your profile akin to Fort Knox
  • Even if your privacy settings are set regularly, I suggest makeing a new profile and then going in and checking yours from the outside to see for yourself what the settings mean when you actually come to view the profile
  • Certainly before and even after you have posted something, reflect on it and whether it was appropriate say or not. You can always take it down if you decide it was a mistake which is certainly better than leaving it, but remember it could well be have picked up by someone else at that point.

Hopefully these further tips are relatively obvious ones but they are always good to keep at the forefront of your mind:

  • Never post anything from placement, and if posting from university keep the information as vague as possible.
  • If you really want to express excitement over your placement as I have done, again keep it vague; never mention people, places, names, dates, or times. Just say, for example ‘I’m really looking forward to my next placement’ and if asked where, keep it broad to the type of area e.g. forensic, inpatient, rehab, community.

Hopefully a few of these tips will help you but make you recognise that we are all capable of posting inappropriate things in an ever-evolving social media world.

The trick is to be self-aware and regularly reflect on what you post. Ask yourself ‘would I say this at work?’ and watch out for who could potentially be reading.  

Do these few things and social media can most certainly be used for the power for good.

I’d love to hear if you have any of your own tips for student nurses using social media.

Becky Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ mental health branch editor

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Question- can a student nurse be banned from uni on the basis of sharing texts with a partner???

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