RN Job Searches and Social Media Responsibility

April 11th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

Recently the folks who handle social media for RNCentral.com retweeted a piece I wrote late last year about the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) suggestions for safer social networking. It picked up a bunch of retweets of its own and got me thinking again about the perils of social networking and being a nurse.

The tips from the ANA were great. They are mostly focused on protecting patients’ privacy and keeping your private life just that, private. I think this becomes even more relevant if you are a new nurse looking for that first job or that experienced RN who wants to make a change.

One of the educational sessions I attended while at last month’s Association of peri-Operative Registered Nurses (AORN) annual Congress was called “Nursing Liability in the Facebook Era” and it was led by an attorney, Troy R. Rackham. One area he specializes in is the consequences of inappropriate social media use. He has collected a lot of material in the past few years.

The Facebook Era

So, this week, as I was thinking about how new nurses are starting to look for their first nursing jobs, applying to RN residency programs, this topic of social media came to mind again. While, for a few years there has been a big generational divide between the users of social media, that is quickly changing. Rackham pointed out that users over the age of 25 are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook. He also filled us with facts like:

  • Facebook has more than 845 million active users as of December 2011.
  • The current population of the United States is 310 million.
  • Of those Facebook users, 483 million are active on a daily basis, using Facebook’s mobile products.

What that means to job applicants is that your potential new bosses, your potential new coworkers, and that very important Human Resources counselor at your prospective place of employment are all online and likely on Facebook. They can see you. And, they do go looking.

There Is No Privacy

There is no real privacy on the internet, no matter how many controls you put in place. And, social media never really goes away. “Memories of face-to-face or telephone discussions fade,”Rackham said. “What is put in a post, tweet, or text message does not fade. And, posts, tweets, or text messages are excellent proof of what the author was thinking at the time it was sent.”

This point was truly brought to bear in the U.S. vs. Microsoft antitrust case, when the government gave its opening statement by saying that it did “not need to put Bill Gates on the stand, …because we have his emails.”

”If Bill Gates can’t delete email, you can’t,” Rackham said. “All digital info can be found.” So any derogatory comments you may have made about a nursing school professor or preceptor, any comments you made about your clinicals to classmates, and even those photos you took with your cell phone to remember an anatomy lesson or patient’s disease process could be seen by just about anyone looking hard enough. And, you should remember that many hospitals do background checks on their prospective employees.

“Written language can be pulled out of context and used in ways unintended,” Rackham pointed out. “Even though users of Facebook may be denominated as ‘Friends’ and you know they will always see your posts, you must remember if your ‘Friends’ are coworkers, it won’t be long before your boss knows.”

Employers Are On The Internet

Hospitals are hardly social media dead zones these days. It’s not just your friends and coworkers and bosses who are in touch. Every day more healthcare providers and facilities are setting up their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and hiring computer/social media experts to run theses departments. Those folks really know how to root out who is saying what.

So, what is it about your personal social media use that could keep you from getting hired, even if generally your personal pages and messages seem harmless? How you behave online could reflect on how a potential employer thinks you might behave at work. For example:

  1. HIPAA and Medical Privacy Violations – If you appear gossipy on Facebook whose to say you won’t spread unnecessary, private or illegal information about your patients, coworkers or employer?
  2. Distracted Nursing – If it looks like you Tweet every thing you do and share your every movement and thought on Facebook whose to say that will stop when you are working as a nurse? Evidence that you chatted away during classes or clinicals will imply you will do the same when you should actually be caring for patients.
  3. Professional Discipline – If the above should come to pass or your potential employer believes it could, then there must be consequences. Professional discipline is time consuming, expensive, and pretty much means something bad did happen.
  4. Loss of Employment – Why hire someone if you see them as a potential liability. No one likes to fire people and it causes endless paperwork and headaches.
  5. Criminal Liability – Your employer and coworkers could be held liable for mistakes made while the nurse is distracted or when private information becomes public. The results would likely be lawsuits, loss of money and damage to the facility’s reputation.

”The internet has opened new channels of communication and self-expression… Countless individuals use message boards, date matching sites, interactive social networks, blog hosting services and video sharing websites to make themselves and their ideas visible to the world. While such intermediaries enable the user-driven digital age, they also create new legal problems.”

-Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roomates.com, (9th Cir., 2007)

You want to be a nurse. Hospitals want and need to hire nurses. What administrators and managers don’t want are problems—or the potential for them. So, if your online image is less than stellar, try to clean it up. What you have said, written, shared or tweeted in the past may never really go away but you can make it harder to find and use against you and you can turn over a new leaf immediately, that’s the beauty of social media.

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