Community Discussion Boards Can Enhance Your Practice

By Julie Miller, BSN, RN, CCRN-K Mar 29, 2021

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When I was a new critical care nurse, I recall feeling frightened and overwhelmed by how much there was to know

When I was a new critical care nurse, I recall feeling frightened and overwhelmed by how much there was to know. When faced with a new procedure or skill, I reached out to my co-workers to learn what to do. You may have done the same. Sometimes, it turned out the advice wasn’t always the most current or evidence-based, despite the best intentions.

Today, we not only have our immediate colleagues to ask, we can easily connect with nurses and healthcare professionals across the country and around the world through community discussion boards. These virtual forums offer a wide range of perspectives. They allow us to get “outside the bubble” of our hospital, health system or geographic region and provide more opportunity for mentoring and best practice sharing.

I’m currently a member of about 10 different online discussion platforms — and moderate one myself — where nurses and other healthcare professionals share their wisdom and experience. I find them to be great places to learn about current trends in patient management, challenges faced by nurses and creative solutions to problems. These groups are particularly helpful for validating my thought processes in certain clinical situations and seeking input on best practices from peers.

Based on my experience with online communities, I’ve put together answers to some frequently asked questions about these discussion boards.

Why should I join a community discussion?

The benefits of belonging to these communities are as individual as we are.

I see the benefits as developing personal excellence, expanding my knowledge and collaborating with the interprofessional community. Asking for information from our professional colleagues is a terrific way to gain new knowledge, enhance skills, identify best practices and seek information on issues we might be facing in our own units. Given the many variations in how a hospital or health system might implement a new procedure or protocol, exploring how others have done it can help avoid re-creating the wheel.

Participating in virtual communities also helps us develop professionally — we can validate our practice by requesting input from others with more experience. These forums are also a perfect place for us to practice professional collaboration. The collegial discussions and support provide a safe environment for growth, validation and virtual mentoring.

Often, reasons for participating in online communities depend on our role and our level of experience and professional development. Some examples include:

  • The novice nurse seeking support, direction or validation for a recent clinical experience
  • The experienced or advanced practice nurse seeking innovative solutions to clinical problems
  • The nursing leader seeking input on creative staffing or how to implement AACN’s Healthy Work Environment standards
  • The nursing professional development specialist seeking best practices for educating novice and experienced nurses

Another benefit relates to the tendency we nurses have to be storytellers. Online communities provide a place to share our stories and receive feedback from our peers. For example, I recently responded to a question from a nurse new to critical care about how to overcome pre-shift anxiety. I found it rewarding to share stories about focusing on three positive things I knew I did well — something I still do today. It was also exciting to see other members of the group respond and share their tips on what to listen to, how to practice mindfulness and how to be gentle with yourself.

How do I know I can trust the information shared in community discussions?

You may be thinking, “It’s great to have so many sources of information in these communities, but how do I know the input I’m getting is accurate and evidence-based?”

Many community responses are full of great evidence-based ideas ... and, like any other source of advice, not all of the answers are evidence-based, self-validating or particularly helpful. On one platform, I recently followed a conversation where a nurse new to critical care asked why something was being done a certain way, and the answer was, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Not exactly the evidence-based or supportive response the inquiring nurse was likely seeking.

With community forums, I still need to validate the accuracy of what I’ve been told, just like when I ask a coworker about how to do a procedure. I look up the information and confirm it against trusted sources, such as “AACN Procedure Manual for High Acuity, Progressive and Critical Care” or relevant clinical resources on AACN’s website, to find support for what I’ve been told.

As I spend time on each community discussion platform, I get to know who the trusted clinical advisers are — the people who share their best practices and back them up with supporting evidence. It also helps when the community has experienced moderators who ensure the discussions are monitored and reliable.

Where can I find a community to join?

Virtual communities exist for nearly every topic you can dream up. Certainly you could search the internet for communities based on your topic of interest. You can ask colleagues about the communities they’ve joined. There are also discussion groups available on all the social media platforms. However, finding a trustworthy community is critical and takes some research.

Many professional organizations offer online communities or discussion boards. AACN, for example, hosts several moderated communities where nurses can share their knowledge or seek information from their peers. AACN Clinical Communities offer an associated mobile app, making connecting with your community super simple. And AACN community moderators are clinical practice specialists who may be able to respond with suggested resources.

The AACN Clinical Communities platform features a variety of subgroups you can join based on your interests, role and experience level.

  • The AACN Clinical Practice Community — which serves as the gateway group to additional AACN communities — discusses a wide range of clinical topics related to patient care, such as ketamine infusions for pain; resources on block charting and medication titration; CRRT; peripheral vasopressors; progressive care pulmonary unit practices; and propoven 2%, among other issues of interest to progressive and critical care nurses.
  • The AACN Nurses in Professional Development Community focuses on best practices for implementing and using online learning content and technologies. For example, recent discussions centered on virtual learning and its effects on new nurses led to sharing several promising ideas and resources to support educators.
  • The AACN Nurses in Leadership community community is a place for nursing leaders in any role to discuss best practices.
  • The Advanced Nursing Practice and Pediatric/PICU APRN community and Pediatric ICU Advanced Practice Nurses (PICUAPN) communities feature discussions relevant to the needs of advanced practice nurses.
  • The AACN Peer Support Community -- available to AACN members -- offers a place to share struggles, and give and receive feedback on coping and building resilience.
  • Future and New Nurses Community – A safe space for undergraduate students and new to profession nurses for connection, guidance, and support from peers in similar situations.

My advice in choosing a community is to join the one that is respectful, professional and most closely meets your needs.

What else do I need to know?

As with social media, discussion board members participate at varying levels. There are the lurkers who watch and monitor conversations, the frequent responders who offer great resources and ideas or post questions seeking feedback and input, and everyone in-between. It is totally up to you as to how, and how often, you want to participate.

As you write your posts, be sure the information you share is not confidential information protected by HIPAA. Also, these forums are not the place to vent your feelings or rant about workplace frustrations. Keep it professional, seek positive solutions and influence, and … go for it!

Why do you participate in virtual communities?