Social Media Etiquette for Nursing Professionals

While the world of social media is sometimes viewed as the wild west of the internet, the social media posts you make can negatively affect you. Nurses General Nursing Article


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Social Media Etiquette for Nursing Professionals

An ER nurse has a rough day at work. When she gets home she vents on facebook about her exhausting shift, about the drug addict that staggered in, about the drunk that urinated on himself in the waiting area, and how irritable each of her patients were that day.

Harmless, right? She didn't mention any names. Didn't post any pictures. And yet, a 'friend' of the nurse who was angry at her, decided to file a complaint with her state board of nursing alleging "unprofessional conduct."

Though this is a hypothetical situation, the end result is fairly common. If the nurse does not have her own professional , she may not be able to afford a lawyer. And though she probably does not feel she did anything wrong, she could end up plea bargaining with the board and taking a year of probation. Probation appears on your record and can have adverse effects when you apply for a job.

What to Avoid When Posting

Many of us use social media daily to share our lives with friends, colleagues and family. Unfortunately, there are associated risks, particularly for nurses, who are held to a high standard by their state boards. Two areas of risk include:

Unprofessional behavior

Examples include posting photos or comments about alcohol or drug use; profane, sexually explicit, or racially derogatory comments; negative comments about co-workers, and employers; or threatening or harassing comments.

Patient privacy and/or confidentiality

Breaches of patient privacy/confidentially can be intentional or inadvertent, with inappropriate postings including patient photos, negative comments about patients, or details that might identify patients.

A Simple Tweet or Text can Result in a Licensing Complaint

Violations of the above risks can result in a complaint being filed against your license with your state board of nursing. Complaints can be filed by virtually anyone, including friends, family, patients, patients' family members, your employer, even your own spouse.

Licensing complaints are more common than you think. There are almost 30 times more licensing complaints filed against nurses than malpractice lawsuits. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 3,357 malpractice suits filed against nurses and 96,659 licensing complaints.*

Disciplinary actions by your state board can involve; no action, a simple reprimand, fine, continuing education, probation, suspension or permanent loss of licensure.

Simple Do's and Don'ts When Posting, Tweeting, Texting or Blogging

By using caution, nurses can enjoy the benefits of social media without risking the loss of their license and their livelihood.

The following tips can help keep your social media content in the clear

  1. Always maintain patient privacy and confidentiality.
  2. Do not post patient photos or videos of patients or identify patients by name.
  3. Do not refer to patients in a disparaging manner, even if patients are not identified.
  4. Use caution when connecting with patients or former patients via social media.
  5. Do not post inappropriate photos, negative comments about colleagues or employers.
  6. Never discuss drug and alcohol use.
  7. Use social media to post positive comments about your workplace and its staff.
  8. Share educational information that may benefit others, such as safety notices and medical news.
  9. It is permissible to refer doctors, specialists and healthcare practices.
  10. Use social media to enhance the role of nursing in the community, among friends and the public.
  11. Remember posting, tweeting, texting and blogging are not private communications and can be used against you in an investigation by your Board of Nursing

Protect Yourself

Social media is great way to connect with family and friends, but you need to be cautious. If a complaint is filed against your license for whatever reason, your state board of nursing will conduct its own investigation. That could include looking to see if you have a presence on social media. You might be investigated for one reason, and have your situation made worse by comments you made on facebook, Twitter or in text message.

Nursing professionals need to be aware that online postings are permanent and can negatively affect their license and ability to practice. Think twice before you post content that could be judged as "unprofessional."

About the Author

Melanie Balestra, NP, Esq., owns her own law practice, the Law Offices of Melanie L. Balestra in Irvine, Calif. She also works as a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic in Laguna Beach, Calif.

*National Practitioner Data Bank, Department of Health & Human Services,, October 2016.

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Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching.

This is all common sense, and is probably outlined in your employer's social media policy. Most of us have had to sign the social media policy. If your FaceBook profile says where you work, you may be in jeopardy of losing your job even if no one makes a licensing complaint. An employee of a facility in Baltimore was at a professional sports game and made a derogatory (and racist) comment about one of the players on her FaceBook account. Before the game was over, her employers were combing through her FaceBook and she was fired the next day. The gist of the press release stated that "We do not want our name associated with an employee who holds racist views or makes racist comments." Try getting another job after something like that!

I graduated from nursing school a handful of years ago and am still in touch with a lot of my cohort. You would barely know we are nurses by our social media. No one has identified their employers, posts about good or bad days are very vague, and our privacy settings are on lockdown. Sometimes a non-nurse will post a nursing meme to our walls but that is it. All through school we heard nursing/social media horror stories about RNs losing their licenses. I think that was very effective!

Like most modern advancement - it can be a blessing and a curse. Social media is not a good fit for those with anger issues, have uncontrollable impulsivity, drink heavily, feel the need to post intimate messages to their partner, or use it to gain leverage in some ongoing family conflict. These people may have to learn the hard way and actually experience the resulting consequences, personally, before any behavior will change.

Drug use I agree with, however alcohol is legal. If I have a drink (or ten) and I'm not on duty, that is my right. Now if I were to drink and drive, or drink at work, that would be a problem, but socially drinking is not illegal or unacceptable.