18 August 2016

Online nurse community crucial for shared experience, learning and mental wellbeing

Nursing is not only a career, it’s a passion and a way of life. As nurses, we pour our hearts and souls into every patient we encounter to ensure they get the best possible care. It’s an emotional job that puts stress and strain on our mental wellbeing, so self-care and recovery should be an important part of our lives. Without it, the toll on our emotional wellbeing and mental health can be disastrous.

Shared experience and peer support is an important part of reflecting on difficulties we’ve encountered as nurses, and we’re fortunate that the online nurse community is growing quickly. With the vast majority of adults going online every day and smartphone ownership at its highest level yet, the online nurse community is never more than a click or a tweet away. We’ve got fingertip access to more contacts and information than ever before, and despite the obvious benefits of that, is it helping or hindering our mental wellbeing?

In a recent #NurChat, nurses and healthcare professionals came together to discuss the benefits and potential pitfalls of a fully-connected nurse community and instant worldwide information access. For many nurses, the benefits considerably outweigh the disadvantages; the ability to ask a question of their nursing peers and often receive a quick response is invaluable. The ease of finding information compared with traditional methods such as library searches is a revelation when it comes to student nurses writing assignments or reflections, even though a healthy scepticism of the accuracy of information is essential.

However, the impact of the seemingly constant negative press surrounding healthcare, the NHS and nursing staff has taken a toll on some nurses, leaving them seeking reassurance and positivity. Some found a benefit in speaking with other nurses online who have experienced similar feelings. The community spirit and ability to reach out to anyone in the online space has helped resolved negative feelings even if the problem itself is greater than one conversation can fix.

It’s clear that nurses online have evolved from a state of uncertainty regarding how to participate in a public online space to confident social media natives. The principle of ‘nurse online, nurse offline’ has been well adopted by the overwhelming majority of nurses, many of whom view Twitter as their go-to professional network. Maintaining a clear difference between professional and personal relationships, regardless of the online or offline status, has helped clarify how engagement and conversation should happen.

By embracing the NMC code in our online activity, nurses can share and engage in confidence. However, there will also be news stories, negative comments and animosity that have a negative impact when we see it or it’s directed at us. The ease with which misunderstanding can be perpetuated online means that an innocuous comment can easily be taken in a different way than that it was intended in, which can unnecessarily cause negative feelings. It’s only natural as human beings to feel an emotional reaction, but many #Nurchat nurses actively avoided the negative space in order to protect their own mental wellbeing.

Happily, the future of the online nurse community looks bright. Passionate, engaged nurses see its value and will continue to contribute to the collective knowledge as well as encourage colleagues to participate. There’s a hunger to grow the research-based discussion and to improve collaboration with people using the services we provide. As nurses online, we undoubtedly have the power to advocate for our profession and to inspire the next generation of student nurses.

#NurChat returns on 30 August 2016 at 20:00 when we will be talking about the differences between management and leadership, and how to develop great leadership skills.

By Donna Mullikin, RN and NurChat community lead.