Nursing student expelled for Facebook photo: The problem beneath the problem.
I have had a few days to weigh all of the issues surrounding the expulsion of a nursing student for the “lack of professional behavior” of posting a photograph on facebook. I am putting the discussions regarding “was this a HIPAA violation” and “did the school do the right thing” on the back-burner for now to focus on another point of view. In my research and data gathering on the subject from many different perspectives I believe I have found one very important root cause not being addressed. It seems there is a huge generational misunderstanding taking place here.
For me (as well as for the student in question), I am literally shocked by the reaction to this photograph. I do not think there is anything innately wrong with how this picture was taken, nor with the photograph itself. This young professional was so excited about what she was learning that she wanted to document it and share it with the people around her. Being from our generation, we know the only way to share things is via Facebook. Never once would it have crossed my mind that this could be offensive or deemed unprofessional.
Here is where the generational gap causes the problem:
For those in a different mindset (possibly those who didn’t have their formative years of high school and college saturated with Facebook and other social media sites), Facebook is simply a silly place for gossip and pointless banter.
To the Gen X’s and Gen Y’s, Facebook is a place for sharing life with those closest to us. It is a place for discussions on very serious topics. It is a place for research and formulating opinions. It is an outlet for emotions.
Beyond all of what Facebook means to us, the fact of the matter is that we are so tied and linked in to Facebook that it has unknowingly become a large part of our lives.
For students of nursing and medicine across the country, taking photographs with lab specimens is a commonplace. In fact, posing with specimens, body parts, and cadavers has been done for decades. Enter Facebook and all of a sudden we have an “lack of professional behavior” issue and a means for expulsion from school? Facebook is today what email was yesterday, what snail mail was 20 years ago, and what word of mouth was before that. Fifty years ago, would you have kicked a medical student out of school for mailing a photograph taken of the first vial of blood he drew in lab to his parents to show how much he has learned?
The Board of Nursing and/or the dean at this school sees this as a liability and a bad reflection on the school, where as those of a different generation see it as a learning opportunity or even an advertisement for good nursing education.
I believe in time this issue will be considered a nonissue. In most circumstances, people fear what they don’t understand. We need to educate those in leadership to understand the role of social technologies in the lives of students and employees— and THEN establish policies and methods to educate healthcare professionals regarding the use of these sites.