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Nurses and social media: Keeping it professional

Flickr | NEC Corporation of America Creative Commons
Flickr | NEC Corporation of America Creative Commons

Let’s face it. No matter who you are, what you do or where you live, we are smack dab in the middle of all things digital. Our identities are now streams of data lurking out there on the World Wide Web. We’ve taken on profiles, personas and avatars in an effort to extend communication beyond the prehistoric notion of face-to-face conversations.

Social media is as much a part of our lives as is the money we earn. In fact, social media has firmly influenced our occupation, our employment and our livelihood far more than we’d ever like to admit. Gone are the days of snail-mailing your resume and cover letter to potential employers. Nowadays we email our CV and share our portfolio’s URL.

Whether from your mobile device, your computer, your television or the local café, the Internet and all its glory is now virtually accessible anywhere and everywhere you go.

With this newfound unlimited access comes a new set of responsibilities. Whether done on purpose or by accident, our online lives are a direct reflection of our personal lives and affect our professional lives. What you see is what you get. The public’s perception is their reality.

Now everything is viewable. The good AND the bad. Your accomplishments as well as your “oopsies” and mistakes. Your proud moments as well as the most embarrassing ones. While we’d like to have total control over what is shared out there on the endless social media websites, we all know we can’t control what others may capture.

There’s the rub. We no longer can just let loose without suffering the consequences. Time and time again we’ve read about professionals being caught in the “act” or being seen doing things that were not considered “professional” or sharing things that were NOT meant for the public to see.

For those of us who work in healthcare, we have to be mindful of everything we do inside and outside of work, whether we like it or not. Health information and its privacy (HIPAA) is a very real and chargeable offense. In some instances, said professional has been fined, lost time and money being placed on suspension or, in some of the more drastic cases, lost his or her job.

Social media has become its own animal of sorts. The only way to tame the animal is to train it properly. As nurses, we need to understand that social media is out there and it is a very REAL part of our jobs. It has afforded us some amazing opportunities as well as provided access to some of the most advanced technologies. It is our duty and our responsibility to respect its value, and to not let it devalue the work we do. There are simple yet extremely effective things we can do to ensure we are allowing social media and all its outlets to enhance our lives and our profession while keeping the animal from infringing on our livelihood.

Here are five ways we can keep our online lives professional.

1. Elevator test: Whatever it is you want to say, do or share on social media, would you share it in an elevator at work? Everyone has had the HIPAA violation lecture. Would it violate HIPAA in any way? If you wouldn’t say it in the elevator, don’t say it on the Internet.

2. The Internet is not a human being: It’s not a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. It’s not your coworker, your best friend or your mother. Don’t aimlessly post your emotions out there for everyone to read. And whatever your do, don’t post negative things about your current employer, no matter how bad things may really be.

3. Keep it professional: Whatever goes out there online, how would a patient feel seeing it? Would he or she feel confident in your care? As crazy as that sounds, it’s the reality of our generation. The public’s perception is their reality. Especially when you have a good bit of control over what goes on the Internet. Be mindful.

4. Know your privacy settings: Don’t accidentally post something out there that was meant for private eyes only. Ignorance is not bliss, my friends. Know what every app on our mobile device does and what it shares. You’d be surprised at what goes on in the background.

5. Educate those you are with: Of course you can let loose. Of course you can get wild. Of course you can be nonprofessional when the time and place are appropriate—just don’t post it or share your activities. And don’t let those with you post it, either. Lay the ground rules prior to your gatherings, because in the moment, you’re going to forget. Trust me.

Be mindful, be informed and be proactive with what your online identity says about you. You’ll be thankful you did.

If you’re willing to make a purchase, I’ve been told by more than one colleague that a book titled Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices by Dr. Kevin Pho and Susan Gay is a great resource. Yes, it’s written by the physician behind the website KevinMD.com (I’ll let you Google that one).

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