Developing a Professional Nursing Portfolio

As you progress through your nursing career, it's important to keep an accurate, up-to-date record of your educational, clinical and professional experience and accomplishments. Developing a professional nursing portfolio is one of the best ways to do this.

So what exactly is a professional nursing portfolio? Well, one of the best ways to understand what it is, is to first understand what it's not. For starters, it's not a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). Try thinking of it this way: A resume or CV is simply a summary of your professional experience as a nurse, your skills and achievements. A professional nursing porfolio is the evidence of your experience, skills and achievements that you've developed throughout your career.

We recommend developing two portfolios: a Growth and Development portfolio and a Best Work portfolio or Profile. The growth and development portfolio provides detailed evidence of your education and achievements–and is for your eyes only. The Best Work portfolio contains a selection of the material and information taken from your personal Growth and Development portfolio for review by others to assist with career advancement opportunities, awards or other promotions.

How do I use my portfolio?
Your Growth and Development portfolio is intended for personal use. You should use it as resource for planning your continuing education and professional development. Your Growth and Development portfolio also provides you the information you'll need to put together an effective Best Work portfolio.

Your Best Work portfolio is your "public" portfolio that you'll share with others. Basically, you'll use it to market yourself. Specifically you'll use your Best Work portfolio to gain admission to advanced education programs, qualify for promotions and apply to new positions. You'll want to tailor youur Best Work portfolio to each unique career advancement opportunity you seek.

Many states are now considering requiring nurses to present a professional portfolio for re-licensure, and a growing number of professional associations are using portfolios as part of their certification process.

What should I include in my portfolio?
You want to keep your portfolio as objective as possible. Items you might consider for inclusion are diplomas and degrees for formal education, certificates of completion for continuing education, letters of appreciation for contributions you've made to committees or boards, letters of recommendation, and documentation of any patient-education plans, protocols, clinical pathways, or procedures you've developed during your career. We also recommend developing a personal philosophy of nursing to include.

Unlike a resume or CV where you simply list your degrees, you'll want to obtain original copies of your transcipts for any formal education you've completed at a college or university to include in your portfolio. The same holds true for continuing education. Make sure to include the actual certificates of attendance for any continuing education you've completed. You'll also want to include an accurate, up-to-date log of in-service attended, since you usually don't receive a certficate for in-services. We recommend updating your in-service record at least twice a year.

Your professional portfolio should also contain documentation of your work related contributions and accomplishments. Maintain an up-to-date list of patient cases where you've made significant contribution. If you've been a preceptor or mentor, maintain a list of the nurses you've mentored and notes detailing how you contributed to their professional development. Each time you receive a promotion or your job description changes, include a new copy in your portfolio. Including copies of annual job evaluations and skills checklists is also recommended.

If you've published any articles in trade publications, made noteworthy professional presentations–such as a poster presentation– or received special recognitions or awards for meaningful contributions, make sure to provide ample documentation and citation of these accomplishments in your portfolio. Likewise, include documentation and evidence of any award grant funds for research study you've sponsored or been involved with. Keep a record of your involvement, contributions and any awards you've received. You may also consider including an abstract detailing your research work and studies you've been involved with.

Your Growth and Development portfolio should also include an annual self-assessment of your goals and achievements for each year, as well as a record of your goals for the next year. Each year you'll review the progress you've made the previous year and develop a new plan for the upcoming year. Your Growth and Development portfolio will become a powerful tool that will support your ongoing professional development, if you allow it to.

Below is a comprehensive list of the important items you'll want to include in your nursing portfolio.

  • Documentation of Formal Education (diplomas, degree, certificates)
  • Licenses(s)
  • Personal Information (Name, health records, etc.)
  • Specialty certification(s)
  • CPR/BLS/ACLS/ATLS/PALS/NALS cards with renewal dates
  • CEU certificates
  • Membership records for professional organizations
  • Personal philosophy of nursing
  • List of committees and professional projects
  • Professional awards, honors and recognitions
  • Evidence of award grant funds
  • Skills list
  • Malpractice insurance policies (if applicable)
  • Scholarly publications or presentations
  • Letters of appreciation
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Annual performance evaluations and reviews
  • Future career goals
  • Abstracts of research performed
  • In-service attendance log
  • Examples of clinical and leadership achievements (patient education programs, quality improvement projects, etc.)

What's the best way to organize my portfolio?
There are several ways you can organize your professional nursing portfolio. The following are just a few suggestions.

  • For your early career, you can simply use a three-ring binder with index tabs. This is usually sufficient when you're just getting started.
  • As your career progresses, you'll want to dedicate a file box or filing cabinet to organize your portfolio. Using a filing cabinet allows you to tailor your portfolio for a given audience quickly and easily.
  • There are now several e-portfolio options that nurses can use to create and maintain a professional portfolio via their computers. e-portfolios are convenient, accessible, mobile and take up very little space. They're also very convenient because they allow you to save all of your information in digital format for easy retrieval and presentation online–or via email.

How to submit your professional nursing portfolio
How you submit your nursing portfolio for review or consideration, will depend the position, promotion or recognition you're seeking. We typically recommend maintaing both a hard copy and electronic copy of your portfolio(s). When submitting your portfolio, you may want to ask the person, or committee, you're submitted to which format they prefer. These days more and more people prefer receiving portfolios in digital format, whether that be by email, or some other online presentation forma.

The earlier you start developing your portfolio, the better. Again, what you include in your portfolio needs to be evidence of your experience, competencies and expertise. It should show a pattern on career growth, skills development and accomplishment.

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