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How to be a nurse leader on social media

How to be a nurse leader on social media

A nursing leader is someone who has a clear vision to ultimately help provide the best care to the people we care for. Leadership in nursing can be a role where courage is often needed in abundance and a passion for nursing and compassionate care is key, but most importantly it’s a role that is diligently working to improve nursing and healthcare. In my own role, leading some 260,000 healthcare professionals in social media spaces with @WeNurses, @WeGPNs, @WeDistrictNurse (to name but a few of the WeCommunities on Twitter) leadership is a concept that is very much turned on its head. Leadership in social media works across the hierarchies of health and leaders often have no formal leadership role. Leaders in social media each take their turn at leading when the need arises and individuals each bring their unique skills to digital leadership challenges. The following are good examples of nurse leaders. 

  • Heather Henry – (tweets as @HeatherHenry4) practising Queen’s Nurse and the former chair of the New NHS Alliance, Heather leads by sharing thoughts and actions on the development of primary and community nursing, and has a particular focus on general practice nursing. Heather shares amazing projects she is involved with, such as Dadly Does It, a community programme that finds ‘new ways to improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged fathers and to understand whether this can improve the wellbeing of their children’.   
  • Gill Boast – (tweets as @GillBoast) registered nurse, Queen’s Nurse and practice nurse lead, facilitator at NHS East Staffordshire CCG and @WeGPNs leader. Gill nurtures and encourages others at all levels. Sometimes she is happy to lead, sometimes she encourages others to lead and sometimes she follows. Gill is a brilliant example of the shift towards heterarachy and flexible leadership in nursing.  
  • Dr Elaine Maxwell – (tweets as @maxwelle2) registered nurse and clinical adviser for the National Institute for Health Research. Dr Maxwell has a particular interest in workforce issues and quality improvement. She is a thought leader in nursing leadership and the use of evidence in nursing practice. Elaine uses her social media spaces to question nursing practice and to drive excellence in nursing.  
  • June Girvin – (tweets as @ProfJuneG) emeritus professor of nursing. June blogs and comments on nursing as a profession and the nursing voice. June uses her voice to ‘disagree well’ and is an amazing role model to show how nurses can have a political voice and remain professional within social media spaces.

These are just a few of the nurses using social media to lead. While they may not necessarily be nurse leaders in the traditional sense, each is making an impact. One of the amazing things about all of them is that they are visible and approachable. Each of them will respond to tweets sent to them and share information, and each has a clear vision for nursing and works across hierarchies to achieve it.

There is a marked difference between traditional leadership and leadership in social media. A study looked at leadership in a variety of networks, and found that in managed networks – such as those associated with service delivery – leadership is hierarchical and, conversely in social media networks there is not one leader, but various informal leaders.1 Online leadership is not necessarily defined by the number of followers you have, but by the value and vision that you present and how you present it. This makes it easy to get involved; by jumping in and engaging with nurses who are leading in social media spaces, nurses can be aware of national and even international work and projects.

However, it’s worth noting that as with any leadership role, being a digital leader takes courage, commitment and competence, especially to engage with the nurses already leading. There also needs to be consideration given to social movements. Nurses who are leading in social media spaces not only need to be able to keep abreast of the complexity of innovation, but also to be aware of social movements and harness their power when required. Someone once told me that all nurses are leaders and sometimes we just have to have the courage to rise to the challenge. But we also need to think differently about leadership in nursing. We need to ditch the superhero capes and to see it as getting along with people and getting on with things, using leadership to innovate and create social movements. Social media is helping nurses to achieve this. The EGM that took place last year at the Royal College of Nursing is a prime example. The petition that forced the EGM to occur was started on and shared across Twitter and Facebook. It gained the required 1,000 signatures in a matter of days, and ultimately led to the change many members were seeking after the pay deal settlement.

Teresa Chinn is a nurse and social media consultant who advises on online professional community development. She also runs the WeNurses community


1 Malby B, Mervyn K. Summary of the literature to inform the Health Foundation questions. Leeds: Centre for Innovation in Health Management; University of Leeds 2012


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Teresa Chinn looks at how social media can help you become a nurse leader