Nurses who blog can educate, connect with others, express themselves

(Nurse.com) Amy Robbins, RN, BSN, started blogging in 2006 to document her experience as a travel nurse. “I grew up writing in a journal and decided to start keeping at least a portion of my journal in the form of a blog,” Robbins said. “I had a ton of pictures from different nursing assignments on my computer and wanted to put them on the internet and give them some context.”

Robbins, author of the blog “Travel Nurse Aim” (www.TravelNursingJob.BlogSpot.com), still writes about her adventures as a travel nurse, but makes sure to omit patient and hospital names to abide by HIPAA laws.

Nurses blog for many reasons, including to educate and connect with others and for business reasons, said Nurse.com’s Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, who blogs on her website www.Nurse-Power.com and is an expert blogger onwww.DoctorOz.com.

Blogging is an important marketing and credibility tool for nurses who start businesses, offer services or hold political positions. It’s a communication tool to connect with others — whether they are nurses in general or in the same specialty, patients or others.

“For some nurses, it is strictly a pastime — a form of self-expression,” Cardillo said.

Getting started

To launch a blog, nurses first have to find or build a template. An easy approach is to use ready-to-go blogging platforms or templates. A few popular sites offering those are Nurse.com (www.Nurse.com/Blogs), Blogger (by Google, at www.Blogger.com) and the blogging option at www.WordPress.com. All are free.

Nurses who want to own their blogging domain names, or Web address, instead of having a space on an established blogger site, can buy their blogging homes. Robbins, who owns www.TravelNurseAim.com, said she pays about $8 a year for her domain.

To set up a domain name, bloggers must visit a domain registry site, such as www.GoDaddy.com. After purchasing a domain, they will have to decide where to host it and download a blogging platform, which is software to manage the blog such as www.WordPress.org.

Once you have a blogging home, the next step is to start writing.

Blogging dos, don’ts

There are things bloggers shouldn’t do. Nurses never should disclose confidential information about patients, without those patients’ written permissions to do so, Robbins said.

“Observe HIPAA, of course. But even more than that, de-identify your patients as much as possible,” said New York Times blogger Theresa Brown, RN, PhD, BSN, OCN. “You don’t have to say ‘a 65-year-old’; you can say ‘someone in their 60s.’ As much as you can, preserve the truth of the interaction but also protect the patient.”

Other potential pitfalls: don’t write about serious errors (where lawsuits might be pending), negative situations occurring at your work place or to get revenge on anyone, including a coworker.

“Most medical facilities don’t want you writing about their confidential information or practices. Disclosing confidential information may not violate HIPAA, but it will likely get you fired,” Robbins said.

To be successful bloggers, beginners should stick to some general guidelines, experts said.

Remember, many of the rules that apply to writing an article or report apply to blogging.

Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN, founder and blogger at www.TheNursingSiteBlog.com, warns colleagues should be aware of copyright violations.

“Don’t go out there and plagiarize or pick up somebody else’s post. You can quote something. You can refer to it and give credit to the author,” Quan said. “[This is true,] especially with pictures. … you can’t just take somebody’s pictures without giving them credit and without asking permission. There are a lot of sites where you can find pictures and add them to your blog, but you still need to credit those people.”

Bloggers should write the truth and check facts. If something isn’t fact, make sure that is stated clearly, Quan said.

Blogging also should be consistent, so readers who follow the postings aren’t left high and dry. “That doesn’t mean you have to post every day. It may mean you post once a week, once every two weeks or once a month,” Robbins said. “When you pick a blogging schedule, try to stick with it. Twenty posts in a month and then nothing for three months is not good.”

Don’t bore the readers. Blogs are not novels. Three to five paragraphs usually make for better reading, Robbins said, and people love a picture or two.

When writing, be yourself, Robbins said. “A lot of bloggers start out trying to sound smarter or [wittier] than they really are,” she said. “Most readers will see through a facade, even if they don’t know you personally.”

Don’t forget the importance of good grammar, spelling, punctuation and checking each work before posting it, experts agreed.

Payback

Sometimes nurses make money blogging. Sometimes, it’s pure satisfaction that keeps them writing.

Quan, who supplements her income by working as a hospice nurse, also makes money as a blogger. She said avenues for blogging income include writing blogs for other sites and selling advertising or sponsorships on your own blogging site, if it gets a lot of traffic.

Brown, who writes for the Times’ “Well” blog, (www.Well.Blogs.NYTimes.com) said there is research that suggests writing about experiences, especially difficult ones, is emotionally comforting for nurses.

“It decreases burnout and helps with processing what goes on,” Brown said. “But if you actually do that on a blog, then you are also performing an educational function, which is letting people know all the complicated things that nurses really do.”

Robbins said she feels connected with readers. She said she gets numerous emails daily from nurses who want to know more about travel nursing.

“I have found the biggest benefit to blogging to be the friends that I have made through sharing my experiences,” Robbins said. “Another benefit of blogging is you can read back through your blog and remember experiences from years earlier.”

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