Like many of you who read this, I often take part in nursing related discussion/debate on Twitter. I join conversations about nursing on Twitter almost every day, and have been doing so for some years now, and have been interested to see how things change and develop. It’s still a great place to mix with nurses from many different work contexts and interests, but recently I have noticed something that gives me pause for thought. Nothing dramatic, just an increasing awareness of some reactions to nursing debates on there. Any regular user of Twitter will be familiar with the wide range of comments that appear on timelines: from the kind and supportive, to the vitriolically opposed and everything in between. If the subject is controversial or popular, then often feelings run high. Most contributors are polite, some people are often amusing and sharp-witted, sometimes there’s sarcasm or irony, occasionally people are a bit rude, or personal. But generally speaking conversations are interesting, enlightening, amusing, informative and annoying in varying degrees. A bit like a conversation anywhere, really.
What does concern me a little is when the ‘professional’ word raises its head. As in ‘that’s not a professional way to react’ or ‘that’s unprofessional’, sometimes stated directly, more often an implication – usually when there is disagreement or dislike of someone’s point of view, or turn of phrase, or vehemence. It’s said as a rebuke, and is a serious allegation to make if we understand what being a professional is. Disagreeing with someone isn’t unprofessional. Disagreeing strongly with someone isn’t unprofessional. In fact, one of the characteristics of being a professional is the ability to question and challenge and disagree. A former boss of mine used to say that one of the benefits of higher education is that it teaches us ‘to disagree well’.
Having spent part of my nursing career in academia, I’m used to having my views challenged. Not just my views, but my thinking, my writing, my proposals, my ideas, sometimes my right to be contributing at all! Robust discussion is a part of academic life. Mostly it’s good-natured, frequently blunt and to the point, occasionally it’s a bit hurtful, and it’s challenging. And rightly so. It’s how thinking is refined, arguments developed and theses defended. It can be very critical, but it’s rarely meant to be personal. On the occasions when it feels personal it’s usually a prompt to step back and examine whether there is any truth in the remark. An academic’s life is an argumentative one.
As nursing becomes a predominantly graduate profession, nurses will operate more and more within an academic framework – critical appraisal applies to clinical signs as well as evidence, marshalling a rational argument applies to advocacy as much as debate, challenging practice as important as challenging ideas. Dissent and questioning accepted as healthy and welcomed as tools of reflection and improvement, even if they occasionally (slightly) hurt our finer feelings. Professionals give and take criticism and challenge as much as giving and taking praise and reward.
So, I get a bit concerned when I see ‘unprofessional’ used as a veiled insult, when what someone means is ‘that’s a bit sharp’, or ‘that’s unacceptable to me’ or just ‘I really don’t agree with you’. Twitter is a great place to exchange views, to contact other nurses and to share etc. but it isn’t a formal group. It doesn’t have invited members, everyone isn’t like-minded. Even if they have joined the same conversation. That’s the point.
Twitter is an open space and sometimes we forget that. It’s not a professional space with boundaries and rules and expectations of behaviour. Participants are not in any sort of hierarchy. That’s the joy of it, and also the problem with it. It can’t be manipulated and moulded into some sort of reflection of a workplace, it can’t be ‘professionalised’. It is uncontrolled. I like it for those very characteristics. It is more often a breath of fresh air than cause for a sharp intake of breath.