21 Apr 2020

 “You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.” Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), Code of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

It is fantastic that we now have social media as a tool. When used well, it is an excellent way to advocate on behalf of the profession. Maintaining professionalism online will support you in making the way from being a hesitant beginner to a social media super star!

When you are online you are visible, to everyone. What you intend something to mean may come across differently to others, so it is important to consider how your words may come across before posting.

We’ve all seen things we don’t agree with online. As dietitians, it can feel like we are fighting a never-ending battle against bad science and “celebrity experts”. It’s frustrating, and sometimes when we are using social media as professionals, we have to overcome this frustration to behave in a way that reflects well on us and our profession.

As dietitians working in the professional practice section of the BDA, we have put together some tips to help you do this:

Maintain composure

Think through each post carefully. Consider how the wider audience might perceive your words. Even if you see something you disagree with, or have been targeted by a troll; it is your duty as a healthcare professional to react professionally. More often than not, trolls feed off your reactions, and post to provoke one. Don’t give them the satisfaction – sometimes the most professional response is no response at all.

You can’t control the behaviour of others, only how you react.

Choose the right platform for debate

We know scientific and dietetic consensus is not always an easy thing to create. And we have no desire to shut down legitimate debate about the science and what it means for practice.

However, there is no faster way to ruin trust in a profession than for members to publicly fight and tear each other down. Trolls with little-to-no nutrition training or knowledge are already trying to reduce trust in dietetics – let’s not make their job any easier with public in-fighting.

The BDA forums, specialist group study days and events, journal clubs, email, Google groups and meet-ups can be great ways to discuss challenging practice issues. Justifying our position and backing it up with the evidence-base is a fundamental dietetic skill. These spaces allow us to hone this skill, whilst forming consensus views that reflect the best evidence we have, and giving us the space to generate and learn from emerging evidence.

Report dangerous online behaviour

If you do see something that you feel would place the public at risk, or which you believe to be in breach of the HCPC standards, it is your responsibility to report this to the HCPC. As dietitians it is our duty to protect the public. If you notice any unsafe public health messaging from a fellow dietitian, please raise this offline via professional means. Take a screen shot, and protect yourself by staying out of it.

Once something is reported to the HCPC, they will evaluate the level of risk the message poses to the public, and they will take action accordingly. You will know you have done something productive about the behaviour, whilst maintaining your professionalism.  

If the case is complex, you may need to provide a witness statement, or you may have to attend a hearing to give evidence. Try not to let this put you off raising your concerns; if concerns aren’t raised, a risk to public safety may continue.

If you see something and you would like some guidance with how to handle it, before you react, please contact us on the phone or via email and we can support you through this. If it is a difference of opinion, we may suggest you approach the conversation with the dietitian professionally offline. Or, if it is having implications on public safety, we may suggest an HCPC report.

We are here to guide you. Please make the most of your membership, and use us as a resource to support your professional development in social media interactions.

Remember: The BDA supports, the HCPC regulates

More guidance provided by the HCPC on social media.

If you have concerns or want to understand what we are doing, we are always happy to chat. Get in touch with us directly about any issues you would like to discuss.

e: edpd@bda.uk.com

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Najia Qureshi

Head of Education and Professional Development, BDA