Let Twitter and Facebook improve rather than ruin your practice

Even though social media is a part of everyday life, many nurses seem wary of using it in their practice.

A Nursing Standard survey shows more than three quarters (76%) of people polled say nurses should never discuss work matters on social media.

Nurse Vicki Thomas (left) gets some tweeting tips from WeNurses founder Teresa Chinn

Picture credit: Chris Balcombe

This is a more dogged stance than even the regulator takes.

Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance says social networks can benefit nurses, for example by giving them somewhere to discuss specific issues, research and clinical experiences. It goes on to advise nurses how to do this while maintaining patient confidentiality.

But the fact that some nurses have fallen foul of the Code because of their social media use might be responsible for nervousness among healthcare professionals.

A request to the NMC under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 20 nurses underwent fitness to practise proceedings because of social media misuse between 2012 and 2015.

‘A benefit of twitter is being in a space where people understand you’

These cases resulted in eight nurses being removed from the register and three being suspended. The other nine received lesser forms of disciplinary sanction.

Examples of misconduct included discussing patients or colleagues on social media, seeking inappropriate relationships, and posting racist, sexist or other offensive comments online (see news page 7).

NMC guidance on using social media, published last year, lists actions that could put your registration at risk. These include sharing confidential information or posting patient photographs online. The Code reminds nurses to use social networks responsibly.

RCN head of digital and member engagement Rachel Purkett says nurses need to know the risks.

‘There are many examples of nurses connecting, sharing best practice and raising their professional profiles across channels such as Twitter and Facebook,’ says Ms Purkett.

‘It’s all about common sense, but the key thing is to comply with the NMC code and use good judgement.’

During a Nursing Standard Facebook exchange about discussing work on social media, most nurses felt it was an unacceptable platform.


Leicestershire nurse Allison Govan wrote: ‘I have been nursing for 30 years and it is drilled into you from day one – the importance of confidentiality.’

Zac Whitewood-Moores, from Yorkshire, said: ‘People should be aware employers will use people’s social media postings as part of an indication of their professionalism.’

The WeNurses community – with its @WeNurses Twitter account that has more than 47,000 followers – has built up 14 spin-off communities, including WeDistrict Nurses, since 2012.

WeNurses founder, Teresa Chinn, who began with @AgencyNurse in 2010, says: ‘We need to be aware of our presence in the digital world, shape it and take responsibility for it.’

Ms Chinn wanted to create a supportive learning environment where nurses could share best practice.

‘Whenever we have asked nurses about the benefits of using Twitter, one of the first things they mention is support – being in a space with people who understand you,’ she says.

‘The second thing is access to learning. There is a world of knowledge in the palm of your hand. Just ask a question and it will be answered.’

Ms Chinn points out writing a blog or making a video can amount to reflective practice for revalidation.

‘There is so much more we can do. Nurses have to be creative and think differently about social media. It is not just about being on Twitter or Facebook. They need to think more about being on it to find out things they can use in practice and pass on.’

Universities recognise the need to teach nursing students about social media use to help create a generation of digitally savvy clinicians.

The University of Salford’s @nursingSUni Twitter account is curated by students. Nursing schools in Barnsley, Bradford and Hull have similar initiatives.

In 2014, Plymouth University health informatics professor Ray Jones int roduced a digital professionalism course to first-years.

With social media, you can change the world

One of the most notable healthcare campaigns to be driven by social media is Hello My Name Is…

Founder Kate Granger, a consultant in older people’s medicine, created the Twitter hashtag #hellomynameis in 2013.

Last week she was invited to Google’s offices in California to speak to an audience about how one person can harness the potential of social media to bring about global change.

She said: ‘I’m just a normal girl from Yorkshire who brought about a change in health care, but everyone has got that potential within them.’

Dr Granger, who is terminally ill, instigated an online debate to encourage clinicians to introduce themselves to patients.

As a patient, she had felt frustrated when doctors and nurses failed to tell her their names or treat her with dignity in hospital. In contrast, the courtesy she was shown by a hospital porter called Brian, inspired her.

More than 100 NHS trusts and other organisations have signed up to support the campaign, which has blogs, a Facebook page, YouTube videos and support worldwide.

View Kate Granger’s speech at

Professor Jones’ students are asked to follow the Twitter account @PUNC14 and set up their own accounts, identifying themselves publicly as Plymouth nursing students. Almost 1,500 students from three cohorts have gone through the course, which carries 10% of all available marks for the degree’s first module.

‘We decided we needed all our students to have looked at social media and thought about their behaviour online,’ explains Professor Jones.

Digital savvy

‘They need to be aware of the potential of using social media, as well as the pitfalls,’ says Professor Jones, who explains that one aim is for students to engage with online patient groups.

‘There is a huge community of nurses online and masses of advice from practising nurses. They get to talk to people they would never have contact with normally – the chief executives of hospital trusts or people from the RCN.’

Plymouth nursing student Julie Woolman is in the second year of her studies and was in the first cohort of the digital professionalism course.

‘Before I became a nursing student, I didn’t use Twitter, but once we started the module, I found the benefits were great,’ she says.

‘I am trying to get all the qualified nurses tweeting now. I’m on a mission.’

Ms Woolman pays tribute to ‘an online support network’ of nurses and nursing students and says if she has questions about an essay, she often turns to social media. ‘There are always people out there who want to help’.

Read the NMC’s social networking guidance at

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