It’s been over a week since a nurse that goes by @olivia_tylerr33 on TikTok posted a video of her reacting to a patient’s death. The text reads, “lost a patient today,” and then, “‘shake of off, you have 5 more hours.’” The video shows her taking various positions as she tries to pull herself together before going back to work.
The criticism came fast and furious. The internet slammed the video as “performative” and inappropriate and viewers accused the nurse of seeking attention.
“If my loved one died and I opened TikTok to see the nurse that was looking after them made a TikTok, two people would’ve died in the hospital that day,” one person wrote.
“My biggest fear of having to go to a hospital is that they are crawling with tens of thousands of Tik Tok nurses,” another person commented.
The nurse has since deleted the video and set her TikTok account to private, but it has been reposted on Twitter, where it currently has over 15 million views. Other TikTok users made Duets of the video to further lambast the nurse for her behavior.
But now some healthcare providers say the criticism went too far. They say the video doesn’t appear to violate any ethical standards or norms and the nurse may have made the video as a way of coping with the tragedy. Healthcare workers have been working tirelessly over the course of the pandemic, and many providers have started sharing their experiences on social media. The hashtag #NurseTikTok is used thousands of times a day.
So, why was this nurse treated so poorly?
Dominic Sisti, an associate professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, called the video “ill-advised” and said it comes off as “attention-seeking.”
“On the other hand, it is the case that the general public really doesn’t grasp the unbelievable trauma that healthcare workers have experienced in the last three years,” Sisti added.
Meg Harrell, a registered nurse who appears on TikTok as @nursemegrn, reflected on why so many nurses have turned to the app in recent years. She said it gives them a sense of community.
“It’s like our break room has expanded into the whole world. It’s so fantastic,” she said.
In the early days of the pandemic, some healthcare providers were even praised for making viral content on the job – but public opinion seems to have soured.
“During the pandemic, when I started [on TikTok], those types of videos were very common. And people were called heroes in the comments,” said Hadley Vlahos, a hospice nurse who runs the TikTok account @nursehadley. “It’s very interesting to see this shift, as Covid’s not been the main topic anymore.”
Vlahos has made several posts about losing patients. In one video, she speaks to the camera about the hardest patient death she has had to deal with.
But there are plenty of haters online that refer to this material as “grief-bait.” Others say these videos are made in poor taste.
Dr. Karen A. Scott recently called out some of her colleagues on Twitter by posting screenshots of their posts. She noted that in some instances healthcare workers can be unintentionally racist in their commentary about patients when posting content online.
“Unchecked behaviors that dehumanize patients, partners, parents, & family members are acts of obstetric violence & obstetric racism,” she wrote in the tweet.
When posting content as a nurse, providers are required to follow the six principles for social networking. That includes observing “ethically prescribed professional patient-nurse boundaries.”
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), “most principles come down to common sense.” However, the organization reminds nurses that “standards of professionalism are the same online as in any other circumstance.” That means providers shouldn’t “share or post information or photos gained through the nurse-patient relationship.” They should also “maintain professional boundaries in the use of electronic media.”
Despite the criticism, some providers have come out in defense of the nurse.
“I remember when I first came across the video,” Harrell remembered. “My first reaction was, ‘Yeah. Totally. That’s exactly what it feels like. I have been there many times, and it sucks.’ On the other hand, it was pretty cringe.”
Experts say most of the criticism directed at @olivia_tylerr33 came from those outside the medical community.
“She really was trying to share a complicated portion of the job that not a lot of people talk about,” Harrell said. “And people that were not in health care, that can’t relate to those feelings, saw it. And it was done in a cringey way, and so that’s what everybody responded to.”
Maybe if the nurse had been a little more candid about her grief, the reaction would’ve been more positive.