Opinion: Nurses on Social Media Have A Responsibility to Be Professional


Being an oncology nurse means supporting the patient—even through social media engagement.

Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN

Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN

Working the night shift in surgical oncology has given me time to observe that the patients, for the most part, are online. They are either texting or on FaceTime with friends and family to stay connected with the outside world. With the Internet at their fingertips, they also have time to be on social media, where they can learn about their diagnosis and treatment.

As nurses, we are also using social media to chat about our everyday circumstances, participate in educating the public, or to unwind after a long night or day in this environment. To gain an understanding of the best practices for nurses using social media, a look at the American Nurses Association principles regarding this topic is in order. There are 6 guiding principles.1

  1. Be aware of your audience. This pertains to who you share content with. A nurse audience may get your inside references that other viewers may not understand.
  2. Maintain your professionalism. Steer clear of names of your current or former patients, including deceased patients. Do not post vides or photos of your patients.
  3. Know your social media policy. Do not lose your job or credibility by violating your hospital’s social media practice policy.
  4. Secure your social media profiles. Configure your social media privacy settings from public to private, so that only your friends see when you post information.
  5. Share credible information. Research what you are posting to ascertain the veracity and be up to the minute on factual information.
  6. Engage with respectful content. Be mindful of not posting anything that is insulting to any race, creed, or religion.

Even though many of us may participate in the realm of social media after hours without talking or writing about specific cases, we should remember to follow those guidelines. By remembering to be respectable, we continue to demonstrate compassion for our patients and their experiences.

Oncology Nurse Influencers

For several years, nurses have been regarded as a trusted profession. Surveys frequently show that nurses are trusted professionals and as a result nurses who use social media are often able to attract a following of trusting users.

Nurse influencers who want to make and impact should turn to current evidence-based research when sharing their opinion online. They should pull information from credible hospitals, and organizations dealing with specific health-related conditions. For oncology nurses, some examples could included Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a major oncology hospital in Manhattan, New York, and the American Cancer Society. The information these institutions share with others is not offered in an off the cuff manner.2

As Ellen Carr, PhD, RN, AOCN, editor of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, points out, oncology nurse influences can use social media to better share the news with their colleagues, as they “may offer clinical observations, clinical- or research-based insights, and experiences, giving context for the information they share with others, including organizations, patients, and patient advocacy groups.”2

The age range of reigistered nurses is large. There are some of us who graduated from nursing school a long time ago and others are relatively recent graduates. Nowadays, everything is moving at lightning speed and, thanks to the internet, our circle has expanded. You can reach out to the clinicians around the globe in seconds, and thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tik-Tok, patients and nurses can have real time experiences looking for information.

Years ago, you went to the library or had a reference book to look up a diagnosis for a patient. You can like a social media post, and it can go viral. On the flip side, you can give it a thumbs down which will have a negative effect on the source and the information if enough people vote against it.

Our Responsibility as Nurses

It is important to note that there is danger in going online to validate one’s viewpoint alone. The danger is in a term called the echo chamber effect.3 As it implies, you are hearing your own thoughts played back to you on social media. In order to avoid this practice, it is best to seek sources which are nonbiased and research based on evidence. Oncology nurses may fare best by following more credible sources from recognized health care groups or websites or journal clubs to stay current on reliable research. Additionally, they can participate in scheduled live-chats (“Tweet chats”), where users discuss health-related topics.3

Being an oncology nurse means showing up and engaging with patients on this roller coaster ride called cancer. Unlike other specialties, oncology often has an end in sight and it is not pleasant.Social media has expanded the patient’s world and surroundings to encompass the outside world and its promises of treatment and quality of life. We must keep this in perspective when using social media.


  1. Nursing World (n.d.). Social media principles. American Nurses Association. Accessed
     February 5, 2023. https://www.nursingworld.org/social/
  2. Carr, Ellen. Oncology nurses: influencers on social media. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2021;25(6):621-622. doi:10.1188/21.CJON.621-622
  3. Sedrak MS, Attai DJ, George K, Katz MS, Markham MJ. Integrating social media in modern oncology practice and research. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2018;38:894-902. doi:10.1200/EDBK_204453
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