Social Media Changing the Way Nurses Interact

by Becca Gladden
Contributing writer for LPN to RN Online

Social Media for Nurses

Years ago, a small group of emergency room nurses in the city where I worked wanted to form a local chapter of an ER nurses' organization.

Now, this was back in the day - back before cell phones and text messages, before Facebook and email, probably even before fax machines were in widespread use.

I don't recall the exact chain of events, but I think it went something like this:

The nurses who wanted to start the group researched the mailing addresses of all the ERs in the area and made a list. They created a flyer (by one old-fashioned method or another) and had copies made, perhaps at Kinko's or a similar copy store. They hand-addressed and stamped a bunch of envelopes, folded the flyers, put them in the mailers one by one, and took them to the post office to be sent.

When the flyers arrived at their respective destinations, they traveled through each hospital's internal mail system, eventually landing on the desk of the Head Nurse (i.e., Department Manager). If she read it and approved of the contents, she posted it on the staff bulletin board. The nurses who were interested in attending the meeting then copied down the pertinent details.

The meeting itself was held in the evening so that nurses who worked the day shift would be able to attend. If you were on the evening or night shift, you had to request the day off to be there. A midtown location was chosen for convenience, but nurses from outlying hospitals had to travel about an hour each way, there and back. Since the gathering took place at a restaurant, there was the cost of dinner, reserving enough cash to pay the babysitter if one was used. Meeting minutes were typed up, copied, and mailed to individual members, along with an agenda for the next month's meeting.

No doubt many things have changed since then and technology has altered the way we do everything from making phone calls to managing our bank accounts. While meetings like the one described above still take place, the communication and scheduling aspects have been vastly simplified and expedited. Cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, fax machines, email and the internet are now as commonplace as corner phone booths once were - and there is still plenty of innovation working its way into our daily lives.

Case in point: social media

A few short years ago, terms like Facebook and Twitter were virtually unknown, even to those of us familiar with the internet. Today, online networking tools have been embraced not only by people looking to connect with friends and family, but by businesses and professionals hoping to take advantage of the ease and speed of using social media sites.

The advantage for busy nurses is that it only takes a few minutes to get started using most online tools, which can then be accessed from your desktop computer or mobile communication device.

Five internet applications that are changing the way nurses interact with each other:

1. Yahoo! Groups - Yahoo! Groups are not new, but they still serve a useful purpose, providing opt-in email lists for groups of people with a shared interest. When a list member sends a message to a group's main email address, it is automatically disseminated to all members of the group, as are replies to the original email. The subcategory "Nursing" in the Health and Wellness area at Yahoo! Groups lists 2,837 separate groups to choose from. An example is "All Student Nurses," which boasts over 4,000 members, describing itself as follows: "If you are interested in talking to others about nursing and the curricula in school, this is the place to be. Join us in a social environment for student nurses. Here we will meet others and learn from each other." You'll also find " Nursebob's Critical Care Nursing Group," a place "to discuss current critical care concepts, expanding each other's knowledge base as it relates to critical care nursing. Special emphasis is given to the actively practicing registered nurse." These are just two of the many nursing groups available, but if you don't find one that fits your needs, you can easily start a Yahoo! Group of your own in just a few minutes.

2. LinkedIn - LinkedIn is an online tool that facilitates networking among professionals. "Our mission is to connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful," the site says, and they're doing quite well at it, with over 75 million members worldwide. When you join LinkedIn, you create a profile that summarizes your professional expertise and accomplishments, then start adding "connections" such as colleagues, classmates, and email contacts. Once you add a few people, LinkedIn will suggest "People You May Know," helping you grow your network exponentially in a short period of time. Connections are by invitation only, so you may politely decline a networking request if you choose to. The site offers a number of other tools including a messaging feature and a job search. Your LinkedIn Profile allows you to indicate specific career opportunities that interest you, including consulting, new ventures and job inquiries.

3. Twitter - If you've fallen for the mistaken notion that Twitter is a place where people only post what they ate for breakfast, then you're missing out on the hottest social media tool today. The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity, streamlining the process of social networking to its most basic and functional form. All it takes to get started on Twitter is a user name and password. Once you've joined, your Twitter page will show a box that says "What's Happening?" - that's where you type "tweets" of up to 140 characters, or about two sentences. The networking aspect comes into play when you "follow" other Twitter accounts with similar interests; most users will follow you back. Twitter membership has endless possibilities for nurses, from sharing coping strategies to searching the latest job openings. Many people use Twitter to post links to relevant blogs and online articles, making it one of the best methods to keep up with the news and trends in your areas of interest.

Don't know who to follow? Check out the lists below to get you started.

4. Facebook - Like other social networking sites, Facebook allows users to stay in touch with friends and colleagues or find new ones to connect with. Facebook pages are divided into two categories, personal and business, each with its own characteristics. In Facebook terminology, you become a "friend" of someone's personal page and a "fan" of a business page. Facebook's search tools allow you to find potential contacts by name and email address, as well as by school and employer, making it easy to locate those long-lost nursing school classmates you practiced IM injections on. Facebook allows users to upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people you meet. Once you make a connection on Facebook, check that person's "friend" list and you will likely find mutual acquaintances. Aside from looking up old classmates and colleagues, Facebook has many nursing-related pages. One example is the American Journal of Nursing page, which presents article highlights, topical discussions and even polls for fans ("should patients be allowed to read their own medical charts?"). As is the case with many business pages, AJN's Facebook page offers a special discount for fans - in this case, 42% off the journal subscription rate. This is just one of thousands of examples of nursing content on Facebook.

5. YouTube - The online video mega-community provides a platform for users from all over the world to post and view original-content videos. If you're already on the internet, chances are you've seen something on YouTube - perhaps a musical performance (think "Susan Boyle") or a viral video involving clever animals or cute kids. But you may not know that YouTube can be an excellent resource for reviewing or updating your nursing skills. The College of Southern Maryland, for example, has a series of YouTube videos titled Fundamentals of Nursing, with topics such as medication administration, wound irrigation, and nasopharyngeal suctioning, among others. Another YouTube Channel titled Nursing Education Resources includes training in ways to enhance communication skills, with tips on improving your empathy and providing spiritual care to patients with chronic illness. These are just a few of the countless nursing-related videos on YouTube which may be of interest to both novice and experienced nurses. Remember to integrate what you learn on YouTube with the policies and procedures of your own clinical setting.

If you haven't tried any of the above internet tools yet, perhaps you are concerned that you'll find yourself 'wasting' too much time on these sites. While it's true that you can lose track of time if you're not careful, a little self-discipline will permit you to utilize the internet and social networking sites to their greatest professional potential without hurting yourself in the process.

Just by reading this article on LPN to RN, you already believe in the benefits of using the internet. So, if you've shied away from social networking, give it a try! I promise you won't be disappointed.

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