Social Media - A guide for dental nurses

social-media-dentalIn a world where social media is an intergenerational phenomenon, it seems that to find someone who does not upload their lives online is a rarity. There is a whole generation referred to as ‘digital natives’ who have come of age in a time when internet use is prevalent in everyday life. For many, life before social media is unimaginable!

We are all aware that sites such as Facebook and Instagram are regularly used by prospective employers to gauge a potential employee, by the police to track criminals, and by journalists to gather useful information and witness accounts. People’s online activities leave a footprint that can be accessed by anyone at any time, with many recruiters stating that they will often look at a person’s online presence at the same time as viewing their CV. But do we ever consider where we stand as DCPs and users of social media?

Recently, some nurses have come under fire from the GDC for posting ‘drunken’ photos of themselves online. Although it may seem a little draconian of the organisation to have done this, its views on the use of social media were made quite clear two years ago in the statement:

As a registrant you have a responsibility to behave professionally and responsibly both online and offline.  Your online image can impact on your professional life and you should not post any information, including photographs and videos, which could bring the profession into disrepute. 

(GDC, Guidance on using Social Media, September 2013:

Many would argue that this is completely unfair; after all, surely what we get up to in our spare time is entirely up to us? If we choose to spend our weekends indulging in what some may consider ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, does it affect our ability to carry out our duties as dental nurses? Many of us will, at some point, have been subject to an embarrassing photo or comment on our social media pages. 

Although we can all agree that sharing extreme views online or posting anything that would be considered highly offensive are obviously things to be avoided, it may not be so obvious to some that ‘drunken’ images or videos should be also considered carefully. What we need to bear in mind is that this can be considered ‘unprofessional’ behaviour within what is a professional occupation. Any information we share can be accessed by a vast audience, including our employers, our patients, and - perhaps most significantly - the GDC. 

It seems that some nurses have already been advised by their employers about online activities, with one dental nurse who works in West Sussex telling me: “We have been told at work to be very careful about what we put on Facebook, and strictly NO drunken photos of work parties”. 

Another newly qualified nurse stated that the practice manager advised some of the team that “…anything that made them seem unprofessional ...” should be removed. This had been after a patient had made an offhand comment about seeing one of the other nurses “enjoying herself a bit TOO much” in an online photo. 

One thing that we can do to limit the likelihood of this occurring is to make sure we use the privacy settings on our social media profiles so that only those on our contact lists can view personal photos or comments. Not only does this avoid anyone doubting our professional conduct, it also stops any patients being able to piece together information about our lives that we might prefer to keep private, such as where we live, who our family members are, and our mobile phone numbers (something that Facebook have recently started encouraging users to add to their profile page).

Another key issue that arose when I spoke to a group of nurses is the issue of being ‘friends’ with patients online. A few of them had received ‘friend requests’ which had caused them concern; they felt that they had been added by the patients as they saw them regularly in surgery and had therefore spent time talking to them and getting to know them on a personal level. Although the intention from the patients will have almost definitely been entirely innocent, one nurse said she found it “a bit creepy” and blocked the patient from contacting her on Facebook. Others had deliberated over becoming Facebook friends with patients that they had “known for years” before working at their practices, something that will be unavoidable if you work in a surgery that is local to where you live.

All the nurses agreed that they had considered the professional boundaries we must adhere to, and suggested that being mindful of their social media use in relation to their career as a DCP is something that merely requires a little bit of common sense! 

A further point to consider is the sharing of information about patients online. It can be assumed that we would never name patients directly or indirectly on social networking sites (as tempting as it may be to rant after a particularly difficult day in surgery!), but we must also ensure that we maintain this on ‘professional social media’, as outlined in Standard 4.2.3 for the Dental Team, which states: 

You must not post any information or comments about patients on social networking or blogging sites. If you use professional social media to discuss anonymised cases for the purpose of discussing best practice you must be careful that the patient or patients cannot be identified. 

(GDC, Guidance on using Social Media, September 2013:

As long as we bear in mind our professional status, social media use and dental nursing must fundamentally be viewed as a positive partnership. We can use it for our own continuing professional development, seek advice from other DCPs, and keep up to date on the latest dental news. It is also now widely used by most practices as a successful means of marketing, and dental nurses may find they are actively encouraged to help with updating blogs, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and website content. 

Being able to use the title of ‘Dental Care Professional’ is something that has elevated our position in the medical sector. To maintain this standing in the profession,  it should be kept in mind at all times, including every time we do something as seemingly insignificant as hit ‘like or ‘share’. 


Author: Amy Shipman RDN, BA (Hons)

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