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The social media revolution is everywhere and is only growing as more platforms open up and more people, even those who have fought against it before, embrace its power.  This is an outlet that has given a voice to the marginalized and an authority to the previously disenfranchised.  It’s perfect and without issues and everyone should just immediately begin posting their own stream of consciousness wisdom for the global audience to admire and share.

Ok, while I don’t actually believe that to be the case, I do think many people feel that to be the truth.  And that’s where real people run into real problems.

I think everyone can remember a time where they had something to say and it was important enough to you that you weren’t going to be dissuaded.  Completely understandable and good for you for having the courage to speak up.  Social media, and the internet in general, does afford some anonymity that doesn’t exist in person-to-person dialogue and that can embolden people to be cruel and antagonistic.  You may be more inclined to call someone a moron in a comment post if you can hide behind a screenname of “superstrongMMAfighter” rather than in a classroom where everyone knows your name and that your battle experience only exists in the world of videogames.

Anonymity gives people permission for consequence-free bullying and harassment and that leads to a whole host of problems, such as suicide, gun violence and shattered self-image that the perpetrators don’t personally have to deal with.  Now people can strike out, cause lasting damage and disappear.

Social media specifically can remove some of the anonymity because of the links to platforms (like Facebook) that will collect every single bit of seemingly pointless data on you, mostly for their own marketing and targeting purposes.  So, leaving a comment now can lead people to your profile where attribution and accountability can happen.

Yes, you can make your profile private and yes, you can change your name if you get too much flack for your online activities but it’s still going to track back to you.  Law enforcement agencies and the media are happy to check IP addresses and scroll through all your pictures and comments when trying to gather details that paint a picture.  Have you noticed the plethora of stories that reference someone’s internet activity?  Once it’s online, things tend to live forever.

Some people tend to forget that social media is “social” and seen by others.  Writing things to an online audience that you would normally keep to yourself in a diary or journal is probably a bad idea.  Something you or your closest friend might laugh at privately can be greatly misconstrued and exploited when posted online.  Maybe your friends list is intimate and you regularly get very few shares and likes but that can change in a big, bad way if someone wants to target you for attention.

Some users need to put every single bit of drama in their life out into the world.  The users who do this are mostly striving for sympathy and empathy through communal hardship.  Yes, they will get some comforting comments and inspirational memes but those people tend to bring the room down and their constant production of the woe-is-me show will grow tiresome.

Others thrive on the controversy and use social media to feed their narcissism, convinced that their thoughts are wise, their ideas are epic and their uniquely fascinating persona is destined for fame and fortune.  This is highly unlikely.  Yes, there are people who make a living on blogs, videos and online content but those are few and far between.  If you were to see the statistical probabilities that you would become a multi-millionaire from your YouTube channel you might instantly delete a host of apps, representing dreams not destined to be.

But social media is here to stay and it does have it’s uses.  It’s a nice reminder that someone is having a birthday or a great way to see updated pics of family and friends.  It’s important though, to not let that online window into another life make you feel like you don’t need to reach out and connect with actual people.  Make a phone call on someone’s birthday; visit your nephews in person before they grow up into people you recognize but don’t actually know.  The computer, cell phones and the internet in its entirety, are no substitute for actual in-person, human interaction.

As healthcare professionals, you know the value of compassion and presence in the healing process.  Would you expect an inspirational cat meme Facebook post to be as impactful as holding a frightened patient’s hand?  Of course not; what you do cannot be duplicated through online channels, no matter how advanced and impressive technology grows to become.

Nursing and social media is a tricky tightrope to walk.  You are legally bound from revealing anything personal at all about the people you spend most of your employed moments with: your patients.  That means no postable content regarding people who have made an impact on you or whom you can proudly say that you’ve positively impacted.  No pictures where private materials can be seen in the background, no tweets involving names, no tags to anyone else’s accounts.  In a society driven to share a polished and enviable version of themselves, nursing hits the brakes hard…except when it doesn’t and consequences can leave you unemployed, potentially unlicensed and possibly incarcerated.

Some would say navigating the waters of social media is even tougher for a travel nurse.  Odds are, the average travel nurse is traveling to experience new things, something that is prime content for social media platforms; new geography, new views, new activities to partake in on days off, new people to meet, etc.  The temptation to post everything is omnipresent for most traveling nurses.  The average traveler may also feel some homesickness or some loneliness when first arriving in a new location and this can inspire more online engagement.

As the nature of travel nursing is temporary and transitory, the belief that, “I’ll be leaving in a few weeks anyway so I’m just going to share this on (insert social media platform)” is a huge issue.  As we previously mentioned, things live forever online and whether it’s your company or an interconnected facility group, you may tweet yourself right out of a job, or even a future one.

In a conventional employment search, a potential candidate will get called in for at least one interview with a hiring manager.  In those scenarios, almost all would agree that presentation is a definitive factor in whether or not someone gets hired; most would pay close attention to hygiene, grooming and clothes selection to give the best impression.

Travel nursing differs because rarely is the visual component a factor in interviews, as they are mostly conducted over the phone, if the manager doesn’t simply hire based on the resume.  The same way you immediately look for someone’s Facebook page after meeting or hearing about them, so too do facilities try to track down your digital footprint.  Are you a potential problem hire?  Have you disparaged previous coworkers or hospitals?  You might be making an awful first impression, before ever having the chance to speak with someone, simply due to your online activity.

Does your Facebook page have controversial statements, comments and links?  Travel nurses are attractive to hospitals primarily because they aren’t a part of the existing drama at a facility and can usually integrate seamlessly while staying out of Core staff conflicts.  If your page can make someone infer, even erroneously, that you might have a problem with race, gender or some other bias, you can forget that job.  If you are overly passionate about politics or activism, it might be deemed that you would further stir up already turbulent waters at a hospital.

Does your Instagram page show that you are a hard-core partyer?  If you’re constantly surrounded by red cups and kegs, always in bars or have pictures of illegal substances (even if certain ones are legal in your home state), expect to not get interviews.  If your page is over-sexualized, will you be viewed as too much of a distraction to be worth hiring?

As a common-sense caveat, be aware that posting things about facilities on Twitter or any pictures of patients will also be a red flag for a hospital.  Don’t do it.  Remember that hiring managers are human beings too and you are subject to their biases, as well.  If you can’t sanitize your accounts, consider making them private and creating separate ones for your professional interests.  If time permits, a potential employer will always dig around to see what you’re about before any interview happens.

Here are a few tips for staying out of hot water:

  • Don’t post pics of patients
  • Don’t post things that make someone question your professionalism
  • Don’t dispense medical advice
  • Don’t criticize coworkers, employers, hospitals or patients

 

Ultimately, you became a nurse to affect real change in the lives of real people and that must always be forefront in your mind.  You live to comfort and restore lives which is the polar opposite of why social media exists: shallow and false, narcissistic self-aggrandizement.  Social media has been shown to cause depression among heavy users and even those with countless followers, likes and shares can have the occasional nervous breakdown from the pressure to live up their previous picture or post.  The issue is very real because what’s put forward is truly not real at all.

I think there is a place for social media in the lives of nurses and medical professionals but I think it is wise to keep it in perspective regarding the very authentic in-person influence you have on life and death situations.  There are certain things about the human existence that are uniquely specific to being human.  Vocal inflections, body language, touch and empathy are invaluable gifts that every nurse gives, and gives freely without thought of likes, shares or comments online.  The most effective and respected nurses exist in this real and tangible world and keep social media in the amusing and mostly entertaining pastime category where it belongs.

 

 

 

 

 

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