Where does the professional line end, and the personal begin? As our lives become more accessible online, the line between our work and our lives have started to blur. Here is an example of a case where the legal lines are beginning to form.
In March of 2009 a nursing student by the name of Nina Yoder was expelled from University of Louisville School of Nursing for violating the honor code and crossing the lines of patient confidentiality. In Yoder’s personal time she kept a personal blog on MySpace. On this blog she posted vulgar and distasteful comments about her nursing clinical experiences. Once the school of nursing found out about these comments, Yoder was called into the dean’s office and expelled. Yoder felt this was crossing the line, and tried to appeal the dean’s decision but her appeal was not heard.
So, Yoder filled a suit against the University of Louisville on the grounds of violating her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and due process.
In August of 2009, the case was tried in court. The judge ruled that Yoder had not actually violated the Honor Code as written, and did not touch on the constitutional issues. The court found that the patient could not be identified from the information in the blog . The court also found that the presentation in the blog, though “generally distasteful and, in parts, objectively offensive” was not unprofessional, but entirely “non-professional.” It did not purport to represent the nursing school and was not an interaction with patients or families, being entirely outside the scope of her nursing training and obligations.
Yoder was reinstated as a nursing student at the University of Louisville.
Everyone knows that your presence online is an extension of yourself. However, many students often forget.
Paul TenHaken, President of Click Rain, recently came to the Sanford School of Medicine and gave a great talk about social networking and healthcare marketing. The lecture was great, but it did leave our audience with a few questions. Mr. TenHaken’s background is in marketing and graphic design. So, he nailed the marketing and social networking awareness piece of the talk, but his medical student audience wanted a bit more information about how healthcare is dealing with these social networking issues.
I believe the students were particularly concerned with the patient privacy issues, patient education, legal issues, the effect on the doctor-patient relationship, as well as the physician marketing. These issues and concerns are the impetus of this blog.
Dr. Matt Bien, a Scholarship Pathways director, emailed me after the lecture and asked if I’d be willing to expand on a question asked at the end of Mr. TenHaken’s lecture. The question was “What are two-to-three things can I do right now to better my online image?” This is a great question, and I will answer that by borrowing some of Mr. TenHaken’s answer as well as adding some of my own.
Google Yourself. Google, Bing, and Yahoo yourself (or StartPage). This will give you a good idea how you stand. Are you the first name that pops up? What can people find out about you? Try to be your own cyber-stalker and see if you can dig up some dirt. But don’t just use your first name and last name, consider using that in combination with your home town, or even usernames you’ve used (ie: cutiepie2002). I think you’ll be surprised with what you find.
Use the strictest privacy settings on Facebook.
Better yet, just clean up your whole profile. The truth is, a lot of us have profiles with drunk weekend pictures and other stuff we don’t want our professional acquaintances to see. So, at the very minimum restrict all of your information to only your friends. While you’re at it, go through your friend list. Do you really know all 846 of those people? I think you can un-friend some of them, believe me they won’t notice. Un-tag yourself from photos, clean up your wall, watch your language, and pay really close attention to what you “Like” and your “Favorites.” These things will pop up on your profile to the world, even on the strictest privacy settings that Facebook allows. For proof, log off of Facebook and look up some of your friends. You can totally tell what they are into, even if they don’t have a public profile.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.
This old cliche, is totally true, especially on the internet. Watch your language and who you bad mouth on the internet. You never know who is watching (especially out of those 846 people on Facebook, and only 15 of them are people you actually talk to). Also, try not to post everything that you’re doing, every second of the day.
“I just got out of bed”
“I’m making toast, mmm toast.”
“Can’t wait to get back to WOW.”
First, people will start to get annoyed by these messages. Then, they will start to ignore your messages all together. Also, if you get in the habit of doing that, you may slip up. For example “Called in sick today so I could go fishing” and the boss reads it.
Improve your online marketing.
You can do this lots of ways. First, you can start your own website. Make it professional and make it about yourself or one of your hobbies. Or you could start a blog, using the same topics. Even something easy like registering for Flavors.me account to aggregate your online persona can go a long way.
I hope some of these tips are useful to you professionals out there. While they may seem like common sense, it’s amazing how much dirt you can still find online about people. Stay tuned for more posts.