Understandably, nurse advocates are upset by the recent expulsion of Johnson County Community College nursing student, Doyle Brynes, after she posted on Facebook a photograph of herself with a human placenta during a lab assignment at a local hospital. While I agree with my colleagues that permanent expulsion is severe, understanding the legal obligations of hospitals concerning the treatment of body parts in our country may shed some light on the school’s action.
I don’t believe patient privacy is the issue in this case. There are JCAHO regulations governing treatment of human tissue in hospital laboratories. Because this knowledge is generally outside of nursing, it wouldn’t surprise me if Byrne’s nursing instructor didn’t know. A quote from the article link above: “Your institution probably already has policies in place, but never thought to consider the laboratory in their policies,” leads me to believe that there is not a standard for communicating this information between departments in hospitals. I suspect the nursing college’s relationship with the hospital was jeopardized when Byrne posted her photograph on Facebook.
Is expulsion too severe a punishment for the offense? I think so. In this case, education and not the withdrawal of it seem right. There are many unresolved problems regarding social media and health care. I believe some of the conflicts nurses face are perpetuated due to the variety of interpretations of freedom of speech and privacy in hospitals. Few nurses can afford the legal costs to challenge decisions even when the debate is clearly unjust. As health care professionals, we are obligated to refrain from knee-jerk reactions and consider all sides of a disagreement. I doubt Doyle Brynes intended to hurt anyone. Was anyone injured? She made a mistake. We all make mistakes. We can learn from them.
Note: For anyone interested in more information about the scientific use of the human body after death, I recommend reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.