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The unfortunate case of a Kansas based and final year nursing student name Doyle Byrnes provides a sober snapshot of the paramount importance of professionalism when working in a highly interconnected, social media driven world. In short, this case proves the terrifying reality that one picture shared online can significantly impact someone’s life and career.

It is first important for us to define what we mean by social media as I feel this is a term which is often thrown around without a concrete definition. As the International Nurse Collaborative (INC) states, “social media” describes the online and mobile tools that people use to share opinions, information and experiences, images and video or audio clips, and includes websites and applications used for social networking (INC, 2016).

Social Media and professional conduct are at the heart of the Doyle Case. While attending her last semester as a fourth-year nursing student, Doyle and three of her colleagues were to examine a human placenta with their clinical instructor. After asking for permission, Doyle took a picture of the specimen and posted it as her profile picture on Facebook. Within three hours of the image being up Doyle received a call from her clinical instructor asking her to take the picture down. The next day, Doyle and her classmates were removed from the program for a breach of professional conduct. The matter was eventually resolved within the court system by way of a Judge’s ruling stating that 1) personal health information was not divulged by way of the photo – no identifying patient information noted in image, and 2) the school’s code of conduct was not clear when speaking about social media usage of its nursing students. Doyle was eventually provided the opportunity to be reinstated in program and write her nursing exams. The moral of the story for me, however, is that Doyle’s name will forever be associated with the picture taken of a patient’s placenta. If any future employer were to “Google” her name, they would see this controversial situation.

In a highly polarized world that often “cancels” people in a heartbeat for saying or posting something which is perceived as “offensive” I believe it is ever more important for us to take heed of our professional conduct as nurses. The outline provided by the International Nurse Collaborative regarding expectations nurses should be competent of when using social media could have helped Doyle possibly make a better decision and can guide us if ever in a similar situation: 

  • Benefits and Risks: Know the benefits and risks of social media. Build your competence.
  • Professional Image: Use the same level of professionalism in your online interactions as you do face-to-face.
  • Confidentiality: Do not share any client information on social media sites.
  • Privacy: Set and maintain your privacy settings to limit access to your personal information.
  • Boundaries: Maintain professional boundaries. Just as with face-to-face relationships, you must set and communicate these boundaries with clients online.
  • Expectations: Use caution if you identify yourself as a nurse online.
  • Integrity: Protect yours and the profession’s integrity. 
  • Employer Policies:  Know and follow employer policies on using social media, photography, computers and mobile devices, including personal, at work.
  • Accountability: Make sure you can answer for your actions (INC, 2016)


International Nurse Collaborative. (2016). Social media use: Common expectations for nurses.   

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