Let's Connect: Using Social Media to Our Advantage

Dennis Doherty, MSN, RN is a Staff Development Specialist in the department of Clinical Education and Informatics at Boston Children's Hospital. You can follow him on Twitter at: @HWE_Nurse.       



A little less than four years ago I joined a new Crossfit gym that opened up in my town.  For the uninitiated, Crossfit involves doing a different daily workout in a bare-bones gym that includes weightlifting, gymnastics, running, and bodyweight exercises.  One of my favorite aspects of belonging to this gym is the community.  It is filled with people of different backgrounds and athletic abilities.  Everyone supports each other.    


This community continues outside of the walls of the gym through its private group Facebook page, where members log in to share accomplishments, articles, invitations to social outings, and a little light-hearted ribbing (okay, maybe a lot of light-hearted ribbing). Only members are invited to join the group.  Coaches post videos of the daily workouts and highlight members’ personal and athletic accomplishments.  Members can reach out for non-gym related questions like recommendations for a plumber or where to get the best haircut.  Most importantly, when someone achieves a personal best, it is celebrated on this forum.   The private group page keeps members engaged and motivated when they are away from the gym.

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In July, I attended the Nursing Professional Development Certification Preparation course, a part of the pre-conference for the ANPD annual convention.  I spent the better part of two days with close to 100 NPD colleagues in a ballroom tucked deep in the bowels of the Mirage Events Center in Las Vegas.  Going into the course I was concerned that I would not be able to focus on nursing professional development with craps tables, tropical themed pools, and outdoor bars mere yards away (I can do damage in Vegas).  It turned out that this was not the case. 


As the course progressed, I saw a camaraderie that developed among the group.  People shared stories of their work, motivators to become certified, and fears of taking the exam.  Here was a group of NPD specialists with a common goal and at the end of the convention we would all go our separate ways.  Thinking of ways to try to keep this momentum going, I thought of my gym’s private group page.  If we can celebrate my personal best back squat (405 lbs.), then we certainly should celebrate this journey to certification.       


By the end of the break I had published the ANPD Cert Prep 2015 group page on Facebook.  Within minutes we had forty members join by using their smart phones or computers.  Over the rest of the conference week, members shared pictures from the course; Lauren posted the Wall of Terms & Important Stuff and Kathy captured the Play-Doh model interpretations of Change Theory.   Several days after returning home Ashley shared flash cards, which members can download and use to study.  In August several dates were posted by members brave enough to make their test date Facebook official.  Personally, being engaged with colleagues from the certification prep course has motivated me to send in my registration, transcripts, and exam fee.  In the last several weeks we have had members post that they passed the certification exam. Congratulations to Joni RN-BC and Gloria RN-BC—we will be coming your way for exam advice.

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In my professional experience, social media has felt like a four letter word.  There are ethical and professional concerns when anyone shares what happens to our patients or in our places of employment.  I see posts by nurses sharing the difficulties of their shift or sadness over anotherangel in heaven.  I have heard of a student expelled from a nursing program for posting a picture of a patient.   I hear clinicians worry that social media enables families to get the wrong information about diseases.


While I admit there are potential misuses when we mix social media with professional practice I wonder if we are short-changing ourselves by not exploring uses for applications such as Facebook and Twitter to our advantage.   Social media has made the world much smaller.  Using social media to connect professionally can break down the geographical barriers we face as professionals.   My example from the NPD certification preparation course this summer illustrates how connections, bonds, and support can be maintained despite the miles that separate us. 


74% of Americans online report using social media.  I am connected to over 845 people from my childhood, college, and professional years by a click of a mouse.   I know when my favorite bands have gigs, learn of hockey trade rumors, and read the latest news via Twitter.   Through Facebook I have been able to help plan my 20th high school reunion and learn that most of my town prefers Pizza Palace over Broadway Pizza.  Why shouldn’t we connect with our professional colleagues as we do so readily with our acquaintances from other aspects of our lives?  Why not seek uses that will move us forward professionally?  Why not engage our clients by meeting them where they are?  


I will share two ways I am attempting to use social media to our advantage.  Recently the chairperson of a unit-based council approached me for advice on ways to engage the membership.   They meet every two months and she felt that each meeting was spent doing work that should have been completed between meetings.   She said that people are too busy when they are at work.   Nurse’s work schedules are irregular so it is difficult for members to connect between meetings.  I challenged her to use a Facebook private group to connect between meetings.  Work groups provide updates on action items and discussions can be on-going.   Will members respond positively to this approach?  I am not sure, but I think we can accomplish more by taking a chance than the current non-productivity the chairperson reports.  


One of my roles as NPD specialist is co-coordinating new graduate nurse orientation.  My colleague and I have been thinking of ways to support our nurses in their transition to practice. We would like to connect our new grads with experienced nurses who have gone through the program.  Our hope is that connecting with someone who has more recently walked in their shoes will benefit our orientees.  Again, busy assignments and varying schedules can make it difficult to maintain these connections.  This fall we will pilot using social media as a forum for our new grads and former new grads to meet virtually. 


My institution offers shuttle buses to take employees to satellite parking lots and public transportation.  Over the last couple of weeks I have observed that at least half of the passengers on these trips have their eyes glued to their smart phones.  Many are looking at Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.  Is it possible that we are missing out on captive audiences by not bringing nursing professional development to these platforms?  I encourage us all to think outside the box for ways that we can connect, engage, and motivate through social media and share ideas with our colleagues on the ANPD Facebook Page.

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Are we missing our captive audience?


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