Advance Your Nursing Knowledge & Career Through Social Media

Social media is here to stay, and the question for many health care professionals is how to use it effectively. We’ve all heard a variety of horror stories about nurses who have been fired for Facebook posts that were deemed by their employers to be unethical, unprofessional, defamatory, or in violation of HIPAA regulations. Yet there’s a brighter side to social media as well – health care professionals often use social media as a tool for sharing knowledge and gaining nursing insights.

Eddie Beard, an American Sentinel graduate with a DNP in executive leadership, recently did his Capstone project on nurses’ use of social media. In his position as chief nursing officer, Eddie had been working to develop his hospital’s first policy regarding the use of social media in the workplace. Other hospital administrators, not inclined to use social media themselves, had the attitude that social media should be completely prohibited. Eddie, however, wanted to approach the matter from an evidence-based perspective, so he began with a literature search. When he came up empty-handed, Eddie designed an original research tool of his own.

In the end, Eddie found that more than 70 percent of the nurses in his survey were using social media, either personally or professionally, for various reasons and across various devices. His research led him to conclude that ignoring or prohibiting social media in the workplace is ineffective, and that social media could be better used by nurses for professional purposes.

So what is the best way for nurses to use social media?

Of course, the answer is easy if you draw a hard line and use social media only to keep up with family and friends, never sharing any thing related to your job or the health care industry. But it seems increasingly clear that this isn’t the best policy for many nurses. A growing number of hospitals now maintain Facebook pages, using them as a community outreach tool. And even large, respected institutions in health care are using social media to get their messages out. The Joint Commission, for example, has a blog and YouTube channel, in addition to pages/profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

Used strategically, social media can help you connect the dots and understand nursing perspectives across disciplines and cultures that may be very different from the ones you work in. It also can aid you in professional development, giving you unlimited opportunities to network within your profession or specialty.

These are three of the top social media platforms:

  • LinkedIn is the most career-oriented social networking site. Because it’s focused on your job history, it can be an excellent employment search tool (recruiters report using LinkedIn as their go-to site when looking to fill nursing vacancies). If you’re going to include a photo with your profile, be sure it’s crisp and professional looking, not a blurry snapshot. And do take advantage of the “Recommendations” tool that LinkedIn offers – you can ask former and current colleagues and managers to craft brief descriptions of your skills and abilities. These words of praise can complement your resume and help potential employers form a strong impression of you.

    Groups that are maintained on LinkedIn also provide opportunities for networking, information sharing, and professional discussions. There are a multitude of health care-related groups available on LinkedIn, including the American Sentinel University Health Care group, American Nursing Informatics Professionals, and Nursing Beyond the Bedside.

  • Facebook offers unprecedented opportunities to connect with an online community of nurses all over the world. You can subscribe to pages maintained by professional organizations like the American Nursing Association (ANA), trade press like the American Journal of Nursing, and lifestyle publications like Fabulous Nurse magazine, among others.

    But since you’re most likely also using Facebook for personal purposes, take this advice to heart: Assume anything you post will be seen by the whole world, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your spouse, parent, boss, or colleagues to see! This applies no matter how restrictive you’ve made your privacy settings, because photos and status updates are easily re-posted by others and can sometimes go viral unexpectedly.

  • Twitter is perhaps the most fascinating social media outlet because of its two defining characteristics: brevity and immediacy. You’re limited to “tweets” of up to 140 characters, similar to text messages that are received by a wide audience. Twitter is a public forum, meaning your tweets can be viewed by anyone, unlike the limited networks that view your status updates in Facebook and LinkedIn. Tweets can contain links to blogs, news articles, or photos.

    According to Teresa Chinn, the founder of NurChat (a Twitter chat group for nurses), nurses are using Twitter to share knowledge and support, including asking for help in finding the solution to a problem when there isn’t time for a literature search. Teresa’s article, How Nurses Can Use Social Media Professionally (PDF), offers tips to help nurses use Twitter effectively and ethically.

Before you jump into social media for professional purposes, check to see if your employer has a code of professional conduct for social networking. Use common sense and discretion, and be particularly mindful of patient privacy when you post.

American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees,  including RN-to BSN and MSN programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.