Developments in health and social media are happening at such a pace that it is hard to keep up.

The Royal College of Nursing, Australia (RCNA) has released Social Media Guidelines for Nurses, which attempt to move the discussion beyond a risk management approach. Sure, they outline potential pitfalls, but they also include a call for nurses to get with the social media times.

In the article below, the College’s CEO, Debra Cerasa, explains why she believes social media can be a positive for nursing – and the health sector more broadly.


The power of social media for the nursing profession

Debra Cerasa writes:

The nursing profession is no stranger to change. As nurses, we are constantly adapting to developments in health care, learning about new research that affects our patients/clients and our work, as well as creating new ways to ensure best practice.

In more ways than one, the roles we perform mean we are constantly evolving. Social media is challenging the ‘old’ health care system; it has been developing quickly and extensively, and it is absolutely time for the nursing profession to get involved.

Royal College of Nursing, Australia (RCNA) have developed the RCNA Social Media Guidelines for Nurses to encourage nurses to embrace social media and harness the advantages it can offer the profession.

The guidelines also highlight the potential dangers of professional use of social media, in the hope of quelling the fear or hesitation that prevents many nurses from embracing this revolutionary way of communication.

RCNA has embraced social media throughout our organisation. Our message has always been, spread one conversation at a time. This is still the case, but with social media, one conversation can take on epic dimensions, involving members from many different locations, specialities and positions. This makes for dynamic, informed and progressive communication.

As the CEO of a large not-for-profit organisation, the ability to say something now and to be aware of what other professionals are saying simultaneously is invaluable. The spread of ideas becomes more organic. The spontaneity generated is a breath of fresh air compared to older and more formal communication methods.

Social media has provided RCNA with invaluable opportunities to engage with nurses at a level of immediacy that hasn’t existed until now. During the 2011 RCNA National Conference, delegates were able to tweet ideas and messages from the event and our team at RCNA received immediate feedback and could engage in dialogue around the issues presented.

A forum was established to allow those with an interest in the annual RCNA Nursing and Health Expos to express what they like and where they would like to see improvements.

RCNA’s 2010 Annual Report was presented digitally for the first time and was nominated for The Australasian Reporting Awards, Special Award – Online Reporting Category and was selected as one of the final three in the category. These are just a few examples, but they clearly show that online communication and social media are now an integral part of RCNA’s communication strategy.

Being involved in social media on a professional level is a commitment to engaging in the here and now. In the shifting landscape that is our health care system, nurses cannot afford to be static.

Social media is here, it is current, it is happening. There is no choice in this. The decision the nursing profession has to make is whether we want to embrace this new medium or be left behind.

Social media is the primary way to attract, engage and retain a new generation of nurses. Our profession needs these new cohorts of nurses. Again, there is no choice. I’ve been accused of ageism as a result of my passion for working with early career nurses (often aged in the Gen Y group), but ultimately they are a fundamental part of our future.

RCNA have worked hard to attract student and graduate nurses to our New Generation of Nurses Faculty (NGNF).

Facebook is one way of maintaining an ongoing dialogue with NGNF members in a way that is relevant to their lives. Most of them are not interested in the more traditional ways of communicating. They want to engage in meaningful, purposeful messages of an immediate nature. Social media addresses this need for instant contact.

Employees of any generation appreciate the opportunity to work with the most effective tools of the time. Social media is one of the most current and relevant tools in the workforce today.

Of course, there are risks and dangers inherent in the professional use of social media which is why we’ve developed these guidelines. As with other elements of the working life, an understanding of how things operate paired with common sense will go a long way when using social media in a professional setting.

RCNA is strongly of the opinion that the positive potential for social media in the nursing profession far outweighs the negative.

Imagine the difference a comprehensive social media network could make to the many nurses working in remote and rural locations. Imagine being able to access the key points of addresses at international nursing conferences as they are delivered. Imagine being able to gain a greater understanding of a patient’s condition using social media through hospitals or other workplaces. Imagine the benefits of a relationship with an amazing mentor, situated on the other side of Australia or the world. Imagine being constantly up-to-date with the health news and events that affect you. Imagine making a discovery that will assist other nurses, and sharing this insight instantly and widely. Imagine nursing education delivered via the device in your pocket.

Imagine all these things, and you’re imagining only the tip of what social media can be for the nursing profession.

We can ensure a positive connection and input to the changes that affect us, our patients and the way we deliver nursing care. Ultimately, we have an opportunity to inspire, progress and promote the nursing profession through a strong online presence and effective communication through social media.

RCNA have released the RCNA Social Media Guidelines for Nurses as a simple way of encouraging the nursing profession to embrace social media and be part of the growth that can result from it. Ideally we can move collectively as a profession in accepting and utilising these new developments.

I don’t think there is any need to be protective and archaic about social media. Machines and websites don’t care, offer emotional intelligence or a professional, supportive hand to hold, so our profession is not being threatened.

Hopefully our guidelines can alleviate some of the reservation and we can enjoy the practical benefits of the professional use of social media. By embracing social media as a powerful tool for nurses, we can harness the benefits it offers and ultimately offer more flexible, informed and highly engaged health care.


The RCNA is keen to have feedback – so tell them what you think about the guidelines.

Either leave a comment here, or contact them direct or via Twitter.


Meanwhile, those interested in these matters have the chance to meet one of the world’s leaders in the field, Lee Aase, Director of the Mayo Clinic Centrer for Social Media, at a meet up in Sydney next Thursday. More details here from the #hcsmanz group.