Nursing Notes

March 16, 2011

Talk to Nurses About Facebook Before They Talk About You

Filed under: Nursing — Shirley @ 6:47 pm
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Facebook profile shown in 2007

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This issue continues to be a real “hot potato” in the healthcare industry.  I know many people are on Facebook and I am one of them.  It is easy to stay connected and to meet new people on Facebook.  I love it.  But, we all are becoming lax about what we should and should not “post” on such a public forum.

My boss spoke to me after I simply posted to a friend who was having a really bad day, to just “remember where you work”.  I did not identify the workplace, nor did I say any other thing about my job.  This innocent comment was enough to get me in HOT WATER at work.

I’m sure there are many other stories out there about the effects on your nursing practice from an innocent and unintentionally damaging post on Facebook.  Won’t you tell us your story?

So, here’s the article I found that got me thinking about this post.  I hope you click over and read the whole article as well as others that you will find on the site.  Actually, this site is one of my favorites and I visit it regularly.


Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media , January 11, 2011


Yesterday, my mother joined Facebook. When she told me she wanted to sign up, I was perplexed. Who would she be friends with on Facebook, other than my brother and me? Turns out, a lot of her friends are on Facebook and she wants to stay in touch. Plus she wants to stay up-to-date with this exciting development of the modern world.

So my brother helped her set up an account and now she’s off and running. Last night, in her first status update, I learned she was excited to watch a new TV series premiering that night.

And with that harmless post, I realized that everyone I know is on Facebook. Short of my 92-year-old grandmother—who takes her TV remote control into a repair shop to get the batteries replaced, so I’m pretty sure Facebook isn’t on her radar—I can keep up with everyone I know, to a greater or lesser extent, via this one medium.

Facebook’s ubiquity makes people not think about it very much. It’s just part of life. But when your profession involves interacting in other people’s lives, the lines can be blurred.

Last month, four nursing students were thrown out of school after they posted photos of themselves with a placenta on Facebook. The students from Johnson County Community College, in Overland Park, KS, were taking part in a lab experience at Olathe Medical Center. After posting the photos on their Facebook accounts, the students got the boot.

One of the students, Doyle Byrnes, took the college to court to seek an injunction that would allow her to resume classes. According to the suit, the students asked their instructor whether they could take photos.

The placenta had no identification that could have linked it to a particular patient. Byrnes included a letter in the court case that she sent to the school after her dismissal. In it, she wrote:


“In my excitement to be able to share with my loved ones the phenomenal learning experience in which I had been blessed enough to take part, I did not consider that others might view this photograph as unprofessional, offensive to the school I was representing, and more importantly the sanctity of human life,” Byrnes wrote. “For my actions I am truly sorry.”

And herein lies the problem for employers. We are so accustomed to sharing our lives with our friends and families on Facebook, and it is so quick and easy to do so, that many of us do not take the time to think through the implications. What seemed a personal account of an interesting learning experience to Byrnes, through such a public medium became a potential patient privacy violation, with many considering it disrespectful and embarrassing.

Interestingly, the court sided with Byrnes and ordered she be reinstated. In court, all four students testified they had asked for  and received permission to take the photo. The lawyer argued that no patient privacy violation occurred because there was nothing identifiable in the photos. The judge found the school did not give Byrnes a fair hearing, and she and her Byrnes and her classmates are slated to resume their studies.

This case is simply the latest in a string of stories about nurses getting into trouble over Facebook and other social media sites…[click here to read the rest of this article]

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