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Memo: social media training for paramedic class graduates

Status updating, photo and video sharing and conversing on social media are perilous for paramedic students

To: Paramedics Scheduled to Matriculate this semester

Importance: High

Subject: Social media actions to take immediately

Status updating, photo and video sharing and conversing on social media are perilous for paramedic students. If these posts violate patient confidentiality, they can ruin your reputation and jeopardize your ability to find a job.

Violation of your school's social media policy may lead to expulsion and loss of paid tuition and fees. Paramedics have lost income, friends, insurance and other employment benefits for social media misconduct.

Before you throw away your future for a few Facebook friends, here are a few simple actions to take immediately:

1. Review all current social media accounts

  • Close any accounts you no longer use or rarely use. It's time to say goodbye to that MySpace account or moribund Facebook profile.
  • Review the content you post on active accounts. Delete images from parties and social events that don't reflect your new aspirations.
  • Understand and adjust all privacy settings on your Facebook page. Disable the ability of friends and non-friends to "tag" you in photos without your permission.
  • Refine your acceptance of friend requests to actual friends. Avoid accepting friend requests from classmates, instructors, preceptors and patients.
  • Limit sharing to actual friends, too. Remember, you will be competing with classmates for clinical placement and jobs. Don't underestimate the capacity for colleagues to use a snide online remark you make about a teacher, preceptor or patient to their advantage.
  • If you choose to accept friend requests from your peers during class, create a category or list just for classmates.
  • Pause and reflect on any status update before you post. Let any in-the-moment emotion pass before posting.
  • Sarcasm and satire don't always translate well in online posts. Without context and other message cues, your attempts at humor might be lost on your audience and only reflect poorly on you.
  • Leave or unfriend "organizations" or "causes" that are using a personal profile. In most cases, this is a violation of the network's terms of services and also is a risk that an unknown person has access to the information and media you are sharing.

2. Monitor your electronic devices

  • Turn off all notifications – beeps, buzzers, bells and lights – on your smartphone and tablets before or as soon as you arrive at class or a preceptor location.
  • Keep your smartphone at least two actions away from use. For example, put it in a closed case and in your buttoned cargo pocket. Or put it in a book bag that you have to move to reach. Use the time during these two action efforts to decide if you really need to check your phone.

3. Research relevant social media policies

  • Know and understand the social media policy for your school, hospitals and preceptor sites. Just because you see a paramedic, doctor or nurse updating their Twitter feed at work it doesn't mean it is OK for you to do the same.
  • Instead of leaving digital evidence that you were using clinical time for Facebook conversations and commenting on YouTube videos, do some reading, research and case discussion.
  • If organizations lack a policy or tell you it only applies to employees, proceed with great caution.
  • Yes, bystanders can videotape and photograph you during an EMS call. These videos can and do end up on YouTube. Ignore them, and focus on your patient assessment and treatment assignments. If the bystander is interfering, look to your preceptor or law enforcement to manage them. This is not a student task.

In the months ahead as a paramedic student, you will have some of your highest highs and lowest lows. Resist the urge to share your joys immediately, like assisting with childbirth or getting your first field intubation, and lament your defeats publicly, like failing a test or having a SIDS patient. Sleep on those highs and lows, and then decide when, what and with whom you will share.

Finally, remember that your online audience is broad. Imagine how your mom, grandmother and the sweetest old lady you have ever met as well as your teacher, dean, current employer and future employer might react to your online postings.

EMT and journalist Rich Huff encourages paramedic students to ask these questions before posting:

  • How would I explain this to my mother?
  • How would the comment look on the front page of the local newspaper?

Your online audience, true friends and strangers, should perceive you as knowledgeable, competent and compassionate.

Note: Thanks to Rich Huff and Dave Konig for their contributions to and review of this column. 

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