Social media can be a great way to connect with your friends and to meet new people. You can learn about things that interest you. It can make you feel more connected to the world around you, but if you’re a nurse, you need to be careful how you use your social media accounts.

It’s important to remember that social media posts are always public, even if you only share access with a limited number of people. Those people can copy and share your posts, and your posts may live in the public record even after you remove them. As a result, we’ve seen an increasing number of nurses disciplined or fired due to posts they shared, even when those posts seemed relatively harmless.

What secret messages could others find in your social media posts?

You might have heard stories about nurses who took nude photos of patients or did something else wildly inappropriate. If so, you likely thought that you would never make the same mistake. But you can get into trouble for posting photos or comments that most people would see as good and kind-hearted.

Before you post anything on social media, make sure you understand your employer’s social media policy. Then be sure to avoid four common pitfalls:

  • Disclosure of confidential information: You don’t have to share your patients’ names to violate HIPAA. The Clinical Advisor recently shared the story of a nurse who wrote about her encounter with measles. Someone found the nurse’s name and employer on her Facebook account and contacted the hospital. The hospital fired the nurse three days later. Selfies and other photos can lead to similar problems.
  • Negative remarks about your employer or co-workers: Your employer and co-workers likely do things that bother you. Most people need to vent about work at times. But your social media accounts are not the place for venting, even if you use privacy settings or hope to spur positive change.
  • Posting on the job: One story from a 2013 article in American Nurse Today highlighted the fact that your posts are timestamped. A Pennsylvania nurse used her phone to take photos of a co-worker who had accidentally soiled herself. Her employer fired her for posting the photos. Then, because the nurse was supposed to be handling meds when she was posting, her severance payments were denied.
  • Showing yourself engaged in unprofessional conduct: The State Board of Nursing expects you to show good moral character, and if your social media history portrays you as someone who engages in “unprofessional conduct,” you might have to defend your license. You won’t want to post nude photos or document your drinking, and you’ll want to ask your friends to keep your exploits off their social media feeds as well.

Remember that your social media posts carry messages about everyone associated with you. This includes your employer. And hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other agencies will always want to show a positive public image.

Err on the side of caution

There are plenty of great ways to use social media—even for nurses. However, as a nurse, you face a higher level of scrutiny than most other people. If you ever find yourself wondering whether you should post something to your social media account, you’re likely better off keeping it to yourself.