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The Best Practices for Healthcare Students on Social Media


Social media best practices for healthcare students

Sharing, connecting, and consuming information on social media has become a basic part of life. The benefits of online connectivity are rather obvious: You can share feelings after a long day of studying, find a support system, or have a quick laugh or two between classes. But the Internet in general and social media in particular are new in the grand scheme of things, and it’s easy to forget that there are risks associated with both, especially in healthcare.

While social media can be a helpful tool, medical assistants, nurses, and other individuals who work directly with patients have to take extra precautions when using social media to avoid breaking privacy laws. These policies are serious, and so recruiters and managers take social media very seriously when hiring new nurses and other professionals. For medical assisting and nursing students preparing for their first job in healthcare, this means you have to be extra vigilant — not only in what you post online, but considering what you’ve published in the past.

We want to help all of our students succeed at their first job, so we’ll assembled a few best practices for healthcare students using social media.

1. Keep private things private

While there are networking tools that are more public-facing, and should be, consider keeping your more personal profiles on lockdown, especially before you start applying for jobs. Your Facebook and Twitter profiles, for example, are places where posting inside jokes and personal experiences are more the norm. This information is meant to be shared with friends and family, not everyone, and certainly not potential employers. Adjust privacy settings to keep these channels under lock and key.

Old tweets and Facebook posts could hurt your chances of finding a job or externship, according to a 2014 survey from CareerBuilder. The survey found that 51% of employers did not hire a candidate based on what they found on that candidate’s social media profiles. Even innocuous posts don’t need to be seen by potential employers (or patients). When you’re a public servant, it’s a wise practice to keep your personal social media life private and out of the public’s eye.

2. Think of your social media profiles as resumes  

As a budding healthcare professional, the bottom line is that your social media profiles should be well-managed and deliberate. Recruiters and hiring managers expect new hires to have a social presence, especially on networking sites like LinkedIn. In fact, they might find it odd if they can’t find you anywhere in the digitalsphere! It’s about balance; keep the information meant for public consumption — such as profile pictures, your name, your bios, and your job experiences — clean, free of grammatical and spelling errors, accurate, and up-to-date. And keep the information meant for your friends and family, as mentioned above, private. Remember: Professionalism is key.

Related resources: Friend or Foe? Using Your Smartphone Smartly During School

3. Know the rules inside and out

HIPAA regulations protect your patient’s privacy and health information and how, when, where, and with whom it can be used or shared (this includes online, in person, over the phone, in writing, and so on). Personal health information, or PHI, is protected under HIPAA, related to the following:

  • All mental or physical medical conditions (past, present, and future);
  • Any care provided to the individual;
  • Any payments made for the healthcare received (past, present, and future); and
  • Any identifiable information, such as, but not limited to, name, demographics, birth date, photograph, or social security number.

Sharing a photo of a patient without his or her permission or disclosing his or her treatment in a comment thread might seem innocent, but it isn’t at all. This would constitute a violation of a patient’s privacy. Some healthcare professionals might not think what they are sharing is a breach of privacy, especially if the information shared is well-intentioned or a name’s not disclosed. But these types of violations can be very serious and can land you and your institution in hot water. Knowing the rules inside and out will help you avoid problems before they happen.

In addition, ask to review your school or employer’s electronic usage policy. These policies address personal use of institutional equipment, a code of ethics, and which websites you can and can’t visit, but more and more they’re including guides on personal social media use as well. Carefully read the policy and make sure to ask your boss, instructor, or HR if you have any questions. Familiarize yourself with the rules and know what you can and can’t post, share via email to your coworkers or classmates, or discuss in blogs or forums. If you’re still not sure, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and not post anything online. The old saying is true: It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Related resources: The 3 Things You Never Stop Learning As a Nurse

4. Act as an ambassador

Your online conduct should closely mirror that of how you conduct yourself in your day-to-day activities, while you’re in school and beyond. You respect the healthcare profession, and this respect should extend to your online personality as well. Be mindful of your words, and don’t make disparaging remarks about your experiences with your patients, instructors, school, coworkers, or employer. Your personal accounts should be private, but you never know who knows whom, and you risk others seeing your online activity. We all have bad days, and social media helps when you want to blow off a little steam. But when you feel the need to use online sites to vent about your day, turn the computer off and walk away, and remember the old adage: treat others as you would want to be treated.