Online Veterinary Groups: What to Do & What Not to Do

Cyndie Courtney, DVM, The Jerk Researcher, Lawrence, Kansas

ArticleLast Updated March 20184 min readPeer ReviewedWeb-Exclusive
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Digital communities are increasingly important in the veterinary landscape. For example, the online suicide prevention group Not One More Vet (NOMV),1 which currently has more than 14 000 international members, made national news when the group was invited to the first Facebook Communities Summit.2

Online communities of veterinary professionals connect individuals to larger groups of like-minded individuals than people can meet locally. Members’ common experiences provide a source of advice, empathy, and belonging.

Online communities like NOMV may be literally life-saving, but they also pose certain risks. Here are the right—and wrong—ways to find a professional home online.

Do Find a Tribe

The internet can connect individuals with unique life experiences and diverse personal and professional issues. For example, veterinarians who give birth to twins may find themselves in particular need of empathy, support, and advice, which they can find in a very specific Facebook group (ie, Moms with a DVM3) or one of its subgroups. If a group does not exist, consider creating one. (See handout, Finding Your Tribe.)

Do Not Lose Perspective

Joining a group of like-minded people may help but also can have drawbacks. Online interactions may impact an individual’s social media content filters, leading to confirmation of established beliefs and biases instead of presenting alternative perspectives.4 Also, individuals who have overcome similar experiences may be counterintuitively less understanding.5

Do Meet (Safely) In Person

Some closed or secret online groups simply facilitate online communication for real-world organizations.6 Safety is paramount; for example, large groups usually plan meetings at major conferences and some have started their own continuing education events. Online connections may blossom into friendships between individuals, who should always meet in a public place and protect sensitive private information.

Do Not Force It

Every online community has its own personality and culture (eg, individuals are invited to vent on Not One More Vet, but profanity is prohibited). Others often point interested members to a secret group whose name is too profane for print. If a group is not a good match, alternatives do abound. (See Closed Veterinary Facebook Groups.)

Do Perform an Online Reputation Audit

Impulsive posts can create problems, so routinely comb through personal social media accounts and use search engines to look for and delete inappropriate content that may be connected to the name of an individual or workplace. Some professionals choose to use a pseudonym or incomplete name for their personal accounts and withhold workplace information for additional privacy. (See handout, Online Reputation Audit.)

There are two simple ways an individual can perform a Facebook audit. 

  1. He or she can use the “Activity Log,” which is accessible from the personal profile page, to review the list of posts affiliated with his or her account, even on other individual’s pages. 

  2. Facebook privacy settings can also be tested by going to one’s personal Facebook page, clicking the “…” button, and selecting “View As…” to see which posts are visible to any individual Facebook friends or group of friends. 

It is also wise to make Facebook posts unavailable to online search engines. This Facebook setting is listed under Settings > Privacy > Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile. Select No.

Respect the confidentiality of the veterinary‒client‒patient relationship, and think ahead to make sure a post will not reflect poorly on individuals, businesses, or the veterinary profession. Use veterinary medical ethics codes for additional guidance.7 (See Resources.)

Do Not Count on Anonymity

Do not rely on being able to delete posts or adjust privacy settings to keep posts hidden. Assume that as soon as something is posted, it may exist forever. To decrease the risk of a private posting being shared (eg, for needed emotional support), avoid nonessential identifying details, or reach out to group administrators to request the information be posted anonymously.

Taking a screenshot to save and share a post takes only seconds. In such a small profession, these posts can quickly end up in the hands of employers or important colleagues, completely devoid of context. While these problems are easier to prevent than to treat, there are professional online reputation management organizations you can turn to, and Forbes recommends the following steps to minimize damage if this does occur.11

  1. Be transparent about what has occurred.

  2. Apologize if appropriate.

  3. Work as hard as you can to remove the offensive material online.

  4. Put out better posts going forward.


Online professional groups can provide vital support and advice as veterinary team members face personal and professional challenges. Take advantage of these resources, but use them wisely.