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Blog power

Online posts and profiles are helping with the spread of information and opportunity amongst colleagues around the globe. 

Nurses and midwives around Australia are taking to blogs to share their experiences and gain new ones. Their posts have brought about many career opportunities and personal benefits.

We speak to three bloggers about why they do it, how it helps them, and whether blogging is for everyone.

Defining nursing

Laurie Bickhoff, an RN in New South Wales, discovered a love of writing after graduation, when she realised she could write about anything she found interesting or was passionate about.

“For me, writing is like therapy – a way to process different issues and put things into perspective,” Bickhoff says. “Over the past few years, I’ve found myself writing more and more and was lucky enough to have a few of my articles featured in publications like The Hive and Nursing Review and online on sites such as My Health Career and ACN’s Nurse Click.”

She received great feedback from the articles, as nurses appreciated finding out they weren’t alone in their struggles and how they felt. Bickhoff decided a blog would be a good way to continue to share her thoughts and generate discussion.

She posts on her blog, definingnursing.com, every two weeks, and whilst the initial set up of the site took quite a bit of time and effort, she says maintenance is quite easy, thanks to her blog’s style; it takes her only a few hours each week after work.

“When the subject is something you are passionate about, it doesn’t take long,” she says. “I write about the issues I come across whilst practising nursing. From things I didn’t realise were an everyday part of nursing, such as being yelled at by patients, to areas I felt underprepared for in practice, such as the emotional impact of nursing and dealing with dying, to random funny things I have come across.”

Bickhoff is an early-career nurse. She often writes personal reflections about working on the wards daily and trying to figure out exactly what it means to be a nurse. She says she found these posts get the biggest response from other nurses, as they reflect their own feelings. “It is reassuring to me personally to know my feelings are a normal part of nursing, and so I hope by sharing these stories with others, they will also be reassured,” she says. “My blog has allowed me to connect with nurses from all over the world. They give me new ideas and continually inspire me.”

She also aims to write in a style that allows nurses to share the posts with non-nursing friends and family. “I hope this gives others a better understanding of nursing and why we are a unique group of professionals,” she says. “Certainly, my own family and friends have gained a much better insight into my career through reading my blog.”

Blogging is already starting to benefit Bickhoff’s career. Central Queensland University and the University of Newcastle used materials from her blog for nursing students. Her posts have also been shared on websites or magazines from the NSWNMA and CRANAPlus.

“This all helps build my professional profile, which as an early-career nurse is fantastic and can only help my career in the long run,” Bickhoff says.

For rural minds

After watching a number of other nurse bloggers, Rhonda Wilson, a mental health nurse in rural New South Wales, noticed that the medium provided an opportunity.

“At that time, I was particularly focused on contributing a rural perspective to the delivery of mental healthcare to rural people, and I wanted to ensure that I had done what I could to advocate for rural people to have good quality mental healthcare when it was needed, especially for young rural people,” Wilson says. “I think it is an important professional responsibility for nurses to advocate for the health of people in their community.”

On her blog, rhondawilsonmhn.com, she mostly writes about real-life situations, to bring authenticity to the conversation. “I used to think rural nursing was not very important, and nurses in big metro hospitals must be better than rural nurses because everything we do seems to be on a small scale in the bush, and we don’t have as many resources to draw on.

“Rural nurses have skill sets that are eclectic and valuable, different to urban nurses but critically important in their rural communities. I thought it was about time that rural nurses started to speak up – a blog helps me to do that and to tell the stories in a down-to-earth way.”

Wilson says blogging to broaden your network and contribute to conversations can bring about professional and personal benefits, too.

“Blogging helps me reflect on my practice as a rural nurse and when others have engaged with my blogs … that has certainly been useful,” she explains. “The feedback from others has helped me continue to develop as a professional nurse, and it is that conversation and dialogue with other nurses and health workers that is particularly valuable.”

Wilson says she hopes more nurses make blogs of their own. “Nursing has incredible potential to influence the health and wellbeing of people everywhere using social media and blogs,” she explains. “Nurses should be prominent in the cyber community – because that is where people are increasingly hanging out.”

She says no nurse is ever too old to start up a blog and urges those without an online profile to get one.

“We should go to the people with messages of health and wellbeing,” she says. “It is the very heart of what we do.”

Sharing, exploration, exposure

Sarah Stewart was a midwifery lecturer at the time she started her blog, sarah-stewart.blogspot.com.au, and says she used it as a way of talking to other midwives about education issues and professional development.

“It was more around how midwives can keep updated, how they can educate themselves and how they can use online tools for networking with other midwives around the world,” she says. However, as her professional role has changed, so too has her blog. As a professional officer at the Australian College of Midwives, Stewart has found that she now has to be more careful about what she says online.

“I’m perceived as representing ACM and this has had a huge impact on my blogging because of all the issues around what you’re saying as a private person and what you’re saying as a representative of the organisation,” she explains.

Still, there are many issues that Stewart feels safe blogging about, such as the Scrap the Cap campaign and social media guidelines.

“A lot of us across health blogged about [Scrap the Cap] and it became part of a national campaign and quickly grew, and the government then retracted that [policy].

“This year, there was the whole debacle over the AHPRA social media and advertising guidelines,” she says. “A number of us used different types of social media for that and that became a big campaign, and again that was successful. AHPRA doubled back and changed its guidelines to reflect what we were talking about.”

Stewart says blogging allows for great depth of exploration that can be furthered in comments. She intersperses her posts with personal topics so people get a sense of who the person is behind the professional stuff.

“As an educator, I was and still am interested in open access,” she says. “I believe in putting ideas out there and sharing resources, because what I’m doing as a midwife in a space in New Zealand or Australia, other nurses and midwives are doing all over the world. If we can just share resources and the things that we’re doing, particularly in the professional space, we’re going to be a lot more efficient, and we’re going to save time and money.”

She’s particularly interested in sharing resources with midwives in underdeveloped countries.

Stewart’s blog has helped put her in demand. She has been invited to be a keynote speaker at a conference, to participate in a two-week project at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and to work on research projects and write papers. She has also been asked to be part of a social media campaign to promote Canberra.

She believes her online profile also helped her get her current job at ACM. Blogging has certainly helped Stewart do her job, as she is able to get answers to questions she may have.

“Generally, it’s helped me get my name out there in the wider world,” she says, “to a point where I’m known to be one of the people to go to in terms of social media for midwives.”

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