Social media is everywhere – and it’s not going away anytime soon. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn have become a way to connect and communicate for many of us. However, inappropriate use of social media can harm a nurse’s professional career.

To help protect patients, employers, and nurses, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) produced A Nurse’s Guide to the Use of Social Media. The document provides examples of inappropriate use along with guidelines that help nurses use social media safely as it relates to their practice.

How Can Nurses Protect Patients When Using Social Media?

Nurses know that they must enforce a patient’s right to privacy and protect the confidentiality of personal information. However, nursing staff sometimes violate this right inadvertently or intentionally.

It’s best to keep these precautions in mind:

  • Do not take pictures or videos of patients or their personal information with your personal electronic devices.
  • Avoid posting photos or videos of patients or their personal information (even with a patient’s verbal consent).
  • Do not share any identifying information including details such as room number, physical descriptors, health conditions, age, and residence, even if you don’t mention the patient’s name.
  • Stay away from degrading comments to describe patients or their family members or contacts.

Nurses also have a responsibility to maintain professional boundaries with their patients. This applies to all forms of communication including online methods and social media. If a patient initiates contact online, it is the nurse’s responsibility to establish professional boundaries and not engage in a personal relationship, online or in-person.

How Can Nurses Protect Their Workplace When Using Social Media?

When nurses use social media inappropriately, it can negatively impact their employers and other members of the healthcare team. The NCSBN states that disparaging online comments about co-workers can be seen as lateral violence, including “disruptive behaviors of intimidation and bullying, which may be perpetuated in person or via the Internet.”

Additionally, inappropriate comments on social media can interfere with how well the healthcare team functions and works together, which can affect patient care and safety. This can lead to disciplinary action against the nurse who made the comments, not to mention the risk of lawsuits and marred reputations. Nurses should not speak on behalf of their employer on social media either.

As a general rule of thumb, keep these social media don’ts in mind to protect your employer, your workplace, and yourself as a nurse:

  • Don’t post any comments, pictures or videos about your employer, former employers, members of the healthcare team, or patients.
  • Don’t make comments that indicate you are representing your employer.

What Else Can Nurses Do to Protect Themselves When Using Social Media?

Even if nurses are not discussing patients, co-workers, or their employers online, they should take care not to portray an unprofessional image. What nurses do in their personal life can harm their reputation and image as professionals, especially if they make the information public on social media.

A good rule of thumb is to think twice before posting anything because of the impact it could have on your career. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and abstain from sharing the information online.

Here are a few final tips that cover protecting your professional image on social media:

  • Avoid posting content that represents “unprofessional behavior” in your personal life such as comments or photos of drugs, alcohol, or domestic violence.
  • Do not use profanity or make racial or derogatory comments.
  • Save the use of your employer’s internet for job duties and avoid using it to access social media.
  • It’s best not to discuss the nursing profession or other nurses’ practice in a negative light.

Social media can be a great way to share why you are proud to be a nurse and how you are growing in your practice. It can also be an excellent way to promote the profession of nursing and the values that nurses represent. By following the NCSBN document and the guidelines above, you can protect patients, the workplace, employers, and yourself.

Furthermore, the coursework in an RN to BSN program equips nurses with the knowledge and tools for professionalism in nursing, helping them advance their education, practice, and careers. Protecting a patient, a community, and yourself requires an understanding of the industry and the social media pressures that affect it.

Learn more about Nevada State College’s RN to BSN online program.


NCSBN: A Nurse’s Guide to the Use of Social Media

EveryNurse: How Nurses Should Be Using Social Media

American Nurse: Social Media Missteps That Could Put Your Nursing License at Risk