Saturday, 1 November 2014

#NaBloPoMo (and why health professionals should blog)

November is National Blog Posting Month (follow the #NaBloPoMo hashtag on Twitter).

Many people are familiar with the age-old adage “everyone has a book in them…”.  Whilst I doubt that’s strictly true, I like the sentiment; I do believe that everyone has their own story to tell and their insight on how they understand the world.  Through seeing things through the eyes of others, or walking in their shoes, we can benefit from the diversity of experience that this gives us.  We also can’t do everything personally ourselves and there is great benefit to learning from others’ knowledge.

During this month, you are encouraged to try to write a blog, either for the first time or to take it up again if you’ve tried before, but not written for a while.

After a little furtle around t’Internet, I found many helpful sites and posts on how to write a blog and what it should include.  There are also many great examples of blogs you should read, including this: 101 blog-posts every nurse should read.  There are plenty of resources about why blogs are helpful and why people should write them, but there aren’t many aimed specifically at health professionals describing the benefits.

Some other examples of good blogs written by and aimed at health professionals can be found on the WeNurses community blog.

What’s a blog?
It might be helpful at this point to be clear about some of the basics: the word ‘blog’ is an abbreviation of ‘web-log’, which does what it says on the tin; it’s “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style“ (Google, 2014). For a bit more of a detailed explanation, try here: What Is A Blog.

There are simple web-tools/apps to help you write and publish your blog, many of which are free, so you don’t need to spend any money ten-years training web-design to get up and running. It’s really straightforward to get started; here’s a guide to some of the ‘THE Best Places to Start a Blog’.

Why would anyone be interested in what I’ve got to say?
When I embarked on writing my first blog, I honestly thought that it would mainly be Mrs F and my Mum that would read my blog; however, in addition to these two devoted readers, I got an incredibly positive feedback and to date, my 100 words a day for 100 days blog has had almost 13,000 page views!  When I set out I intended on using this blog as a way of keeping a journal of some significant events and experiences from the first 100 days in a new job.  I was encouraged by friends to write this publicly in the form of a blog.  This obviously meant that I had to be a bit more disciplined in what I wrote for public consumption than I might be in a private reflective journal.

Pick a specific topic area that really interests you and that you will be motivated to write about.  There is a great chance that many others share this interest.  You will then get people interested to repeatedly return to read your future posts and use the tools available to allow people to sign-up to receive an e-mail update when you post new content.

What’s the benefit of health professionals blogging?
Health professionals are encouraged to get into the habit of using reflection as a tool for self-learning throughout pre-registration training and beyond into professional life.  Writing a blog is a natural extension of this, which allows, where appropriate*, for that reflection to be shared more widely and therefore for others to benefit from this learning.  Whilst guidance from the health professionals regulators', such as the NMC, on continued professional development doesn’t specifically cite blogging as a tool for reflective practise, I firmly believe it’s a helpful process for this.  The NMC’s PREP (Post-registration Education & Practice) Handbook says: “You should think about how you might like to record what you do, what you learn and how you apply it to your professional practice”.  Similarly, the HPC's guidance for registrants on Continued Professional Development states "registrants should: maintain a continuous, up-to-date and accurate record of their CPD activities seek.. and ensure that their CPD has contributed to the quality of their practice and service delivery". Writing a blog is both an excellent way to learn in itself and can be used as a way to evidence learning and how it can be applied into every-day practice.

This is simply a start of the benefits in terms of how blogging can support your maintenance of your professional registration.  There are many more, including inspiration for others and peer support.

If you choose to write a blog, you never know who may read it, as you will be publishing to the world*.  Albert Einstein said “A ship is safest in the harbour, but that is not what it was built for”.  Whilst we should be considerate in what we write publicly, don’t feel too restrained by this; take some risks with what you write in order to inspire others.

There is a wonderful 365-day blog currently being written by Rachel (@nursingrahs) a student nurse about every day of her final year of pre-registration training.  Rachel writes each day about the trials and triumphs of her third year of training before qualifying as a nurse.  I have huge respect for her honesty and perseverance in writing this.  It has certainly inspired me and helped me reflect on balancing personal, professional and other elements of my life.  There are countless others who get inspiration from this and other similar blogs.
Another great example is the University of Salford Occupational Therapy Education Blog.  This contains content created through the collaboration of different people with an interest in the education of OTs.  Through the blog current issues are discussed, pages shared for those who want to know more about the profession and external links to a range of relevant and useful places to find out more about occupational therapy.  Started in 2007 it's an inspirational resource for a range of people from those with little or no knowledge of the profession trough students, health professionals and to academics. These wonderful people can be found on Twitter at @otsalforduni and also on Facebook.

Peer Support
There are fantastic communities of health professionals across the UK and around the world.  This is demonstrated perfectly through social media in many ways.  None greater than through the amazing work of Teresa Chinn and the astounding success that she’s had with the WeCommunities that she has developed and inspired, originally through @WeNurses.  These communities now include midwives, many branches of nursing, paramedics, pharmacists, hospital chaplains, commissioners and a newly emerging @WeDocs.

A great feature of blogging is the ability for people to share and comment on what you’ve written and for this to be distributed far and wide through social media.  This really broadens the experience and the support for you and others that can be achieved.  What is really wonderful is when boundaries between the digital world and the real world blur and people personally talk about blogs and what they’ve learnt from them.
You may also try writing a blog with someone else or as a group, support each other, use it to learn.
What’s more important; quality or quantity?

Whilst it’s important that what you write is easily readable, relevant and that others can connect with it; it is equally constructive to blog often as well.  A really well-crafted single blog-post on a topic relevant to the masses may be read and re-read by many.  For you to really get the benefit from the connection with others that blogging will give you, write little and often.

Blogging isn’t about publishing your thesis and nor is it just about sharing brief thoughts; there are other tools like Twitter for this!  You can write as little as 100 words, or even less, but seek feedback and listen to what others tell you with an open mind and learn from this, but also trust your instincts; you’ll get to know whether you’re writing enough or too much.

What if I need help?
November is a great month to start to write a blog, as many others will be starting out at the same time and generally, established bloggers are only too willing to offer a helping hand.  Specifically, during NaBloPoMo there’s a Twitterchat at 5pm (UK time) every weekday throughout November 2014 using the #NaBloPoMo hashtag.  There should be a lot of encouragement and advice available through that route.

Personally, I am always happy to assist in any way I can too and finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  The chances are that if you’ve got a question, there are many others also wondering, but too afraid to ask, so don’t worry about how simple or complex the question is: The only ‘stupid’ question, is the one you don’t ask!

(*please do ensure that you never include any information in any blog-post that you write that could identify any individuals without their explicit consent to do so, unless information you’re sharing is already in the public domain.  Even if this is the case, it’s still a good idea to check with/inform them first.  Also, be aware of your professional code of conduct and ensure that what you publish is aligned to this, e.g. the NMC Code or HPC Standards)

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