Starting Nursing School? Do Social Media Right

It is that time of year again when nursing students are going to school (or back to school). I am seeing them all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and wherever else featuring selfies of them in their brand new uniform scrubs, typically with the school name prominently featured.

Don’t do this.

Don’t do it in school, don’t do it when you have a job, don’t do it ever, at all, under any conditions under the sun.

In case I have been unclear: don’t do it!

Learn from the mistakes of your predecessors. Even Katie Duke, of NY Med fame, got fired for social media issues. Sadly for The Duke, she got fired on air during NY Med. She went back and forth. On the show she said she made a mistake; on Twitter she said she never violated HIPAA. I say she did. Everyone knew the institution, and she captioned a time-stamped photo with the number of the train that hit her patient. To me, that allows other people to identify the patient, hence, a HIPAA violation.

Barring the super famous TV nurses, here’s how to get in trouble on social media for regular people (again: don’t do this). Plaster your school, clinical site, or workplace all over the place (or mention it in passing once). Make a casual remark about a patient, educator, or boss. Watch your kingdom crumble.

The thing is, once you associate yourself with an institution, whether it be for school or work (and again, clinical sites count), HIPAA witch-hunting is eased by one zillion percent, roughly. People may “know” where you work or go to school, or they may be able to figure it out, but unless you have identifying statements or logos it is tougher to get in trouble.

Consider Doyle Byrnes, who got expelled from her nursing program for posting a photo on Facebook of her in her uniform excitedly holding up a placenta in lab. Presumably the placenta felt offended at its identification via the logo on her school uniform. The photo is not to be found anymore, but I saw it at the time. It was a grainy photo of some excited nursing students holding a glob. My first reaction was “it’s so nice to see nursing students so thrilled about what they’re learning!” But she was expelled. The court reinstated her and rebuked her school, but really, do you want that hassle? I don’t.

Now that I have scared you spitless, I will confuse you by urging you to use social media. I know. What? Yes! Use it! Educate yourself on what not to post to be ethical and to keep yourself out of trouble, use common sense, and use the tools you have. Network. Get questions answered. Answer others’ questions. Write blog posts about your exciting experiences in nursing school and as a new nurse. Mentor people online. Find a mentor online. Share your excitement about your first day in scrubs (just pixellate the logo)! The slightly more seasoned and jaded nurses are tickled pink to see new, excited nurses…they need that.

Social media is an impressive, awesome tool. Just remember that tools can be dangerous, and don’t start your nursing career laying the groundwork for later trouble. Just start out by never giving out obvious information about where you go to school or work or clinicals, and go from there.

About Megen Duffy

view all posts

Megen Duffy, RN, BA, BSN, CEN, is a practicing nurse, blogger, and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. Megen has practiced in a variety of settings from emergency rooms to prisons.