Twitter as a powerful tool for healthcare professionals and students

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By Jennifer Springham   @jlspringham2
Joint Appointment lecturer in Mental Health and Practice Development lead, My Care Academy.


At My Care Academy we discovered that a lot of our partners were novices when it came to using Twitter. During our digital workshops and discussions with NHS and University partners we discovered that many didn’t use Twitter.  This was often as staff were uncertain as to how it worked or could benefit them in terms of learning, professional networking and collaboration.  There was a common mis-perception that Twitter was full of trivia – like cat videos and celebrity tweets. So we’ve created a mini series of interview style blogs here on the new MyCA blog to help bust some myths around digital tools and social media. We’re calling it #DigitalInterviews and @Cameron_Fiona will be interviewing partnership staff and sharing them across our social media channels – naturally.

First up in our blog series is an interview with Jennifer Spingham who works in a joint role within MyCA split between lecturing on mental health at Middlesex University and is one of the Practice Development Leads for the partnership, developing practice and training content. Fiona Cameron our Digital Communications Manager for My Care Academy was really impressed with Jenny’s enthusiasm for Twitter after joining MyCA and interviewed her to learn what helped make Jenny a life long non-tweeter take the leap onto Twitter.  We hope you’ll be inspired to join Twitter too!

Q: Why hadn’t you used Twitter professionally before?

A: Personally, I had not discovered the joys and benefits of Twitter until I started working at Middlesex University as a mental health nursing lecturer and practice development lead for the My Care Academy.  Twitter was starting out during my student nurse days, and I was not exposed to it during my time as a qualified nurse.  My lack of understanding as to how it works always led me to believe it was a waste a time, or would not add any value to my work. I’d read the official NMC Social Media guidance – which seemed to focus a lot on ‘what not to do online’, rather than truly highlight the benefits for nurses (students and qualified).  That probably also put me off from using social media including Twitter and Facebook.  In my current role I can see how much this resource could have really benefited me as a student and qualified nurse for all those years. So better late then never, now I am a regular Tweeter and encourage my students to use it to find resources, news and learn via Twitter chats too.

Q: What helped you get onto it?

A: Using Twitter can be a really useful resource for academics, however it has been working with the My Care Academy team that has really highlighted the benefits to me. Our team Digital Communications Manager (@Cameron_Fiona) showed me the ropes, helped with my profile and recommended useful organisations to follow.  Since then I have been using it regularly to promote the My Care Academy project and research useful ‘Ed Tech’ tools as well as content for the Virtual Classroom and Knowledge Bank work streams.  Plus I’ve located many interesting resources to inform my teaching role.  What appears to be key is who you follow, plus posting relevant and useful content consistently. By following the right people and organisations, you can grow your own networks and find a wealth of knowledge and resources out there.

Q: What kept you using it?

A: It did take a little while in getting to grips with it, however once I was familiar with how to use Twitter effectively I was sold. Then I discovered twitter chats (online conversations where a host will pose a series of questions relating to a particular topic). I joined a WeNurses Preceptorship tweet chat and found myself hooked for the whole hour.  In fact, in the same setting I had inadvertently joined another twitter chat without realising it! I was now multi-tweeting.  The second one I accidentally joined was hosted by WeLDNurses, the topic being about the benefits of using social media for nurse education. Since this chat I was really inspired by the idea of using Twitter as a way of engaging students, as it was great to see how many nursing students are already on there who are engaging constructively and professionally in these important conversations. It got me thinking how our current students could benefit from knowing about Twitter as resource to support their learning e.g. peer support, locating up to date publications, links to research etc.  In general students would have the opportunity to gain wider perspectives on nursing.

Q: What benefits did you find (both personally and professionally?)

A: Professionally: I have found so many great resources (nursing and teaching related), and through them I’ve found links to other twitter pages and resources that have allowed me to generate ideas that I could incorporate into my teaching. I decided to follow other lecturers and clinical specialists, and continued to read some really interesting posts and content. This meant I had quick and easy access to up to date information and developments in research and policy, which saved me time and made it relevant for students. The great thing was that I could easily drill into niche areas and topics. Once you follow one person in a particular field you see their followers and that snowballs and allows you to widen your network, it’s like a ripple effect.  It seems like the most driven academics and clinical specialists are on there tweeting great content – sharing it freely. The Twitter community is supportive and I’ve learnt so much that is interesting and informative.  It has also made me more confident in terms of writing, the experience of micro-blogging has helped me hone my writing skills to be more concise. Likewise the fact that people are freely collaborating online sparks new ideas and learning opportunities, which people who are not on Twitter miss out on.

Personally: I’ve learnt new digital skills which I can use in my spare time and at work, which I’ve now added to my CV and LinkedIn profile. I find Twitter useful for travel tips and up to date news and music. I support friends who are also using Twitter to promote their areas of work, as well as links to their blogs which I love to read. Through Twitter I found one that one of the authors that I read for my MSc, who was a key inspiration to me, was doing a free talk at the Royal College of Nurses library recently.  I would not have come across this if it wasn’t for being on Twitter. I would never have imagined that Twitter could be so useful before joining the My Care Academy.  Once you get over the barriers of how to use it and the myths that it’s all about cat videos, you can really use it to your advantage if using it in a professional capacity. Even if you just initially observe what is happening and take in information from twitter feeds, you can gradually start to build up your confidence in taking part in discussions and posting content yourself.

Q: If others are on the fence and don’t think they have time for it or are confused by it what would you say to them?

A: My top tips, in summary, would be:

  • Be open to Twitter and its benefits
  • Start small
  • Dip in and out of it
  • Spend time observing and then gradually begin posting

I’d recommend being open to Twitter.  Start small – even creating a twitter account in a different name until you grasp how to use it. Observing and reading the information at first is fine.  Do dip in and out of Twitter for 15 minutes a day  –  you’ll find that you’ll soon get a grip of it. Once you find useful content and people to follow you’ll be hooked.  Join a Twitterchat on a topic that you feel passionate about – or ask a colleague to help show you who they follow and how to grow your network.  If you’re passionate about a key aspect of Nursing care just search via the hashtag keyword e.g. #MentalHealth or #PTSD or #Recovery and you’ll soon identify other people tweeting

Q: What would recommend a Twitter novice reads?

A: I came across a really useful guide on Twitter Twitter for Nurses which I strongly recommend other nurses to read.  It clearly differentiates personal, professional and organisational use of twitter, and is very clear on the kind of content one should and should not be posting.  The WeCommunities website is another helpful resource if you are interested in joining a Twitter chat, which includes a chat calendar and ‘how to’ guides.  I would say give it a chance – you’d be surprised how much you can find on there, such as resources, updated publications and access to the current thinking around the health topics you are interested in.

What’s your view on health care professionals using Twitter?

If you are on Twitter don’t forget to join the conversation and follow Jennifer on Twitter @jlspringham2

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