1. Spear, Marcia DNP, ACNP-BC, CWS, CPSN, CANS

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The journey to the "ultimate achievement" never ends. - -Genero Crenshaw

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It is the responsibility of each of us to take charge and be responsible for our own professional growth and development. If not each of us individually, then who should do it? I am sure without a doubt that I can do a better job than anyone else I know, including my employer. Professional growth needs to be monitored and assessed on a continuous basis, and who to do that better and more efficiently than each of us. After all, we have a personal investment.


Professional development is a process of improving and increasing capabilities and knowledge through access to education and training opportunities in the workplace or outside organizations or through observation of others performing the task. Professional development helps build and maintain morale and is thought to attract higher quality of individuals to an organization or employer (, n.d.). Growth goes without saying. I would venture to say that if each of us reflected on our personal nursing career, we would be more than able to identify areas of professional growth along the nursing journey. How does one manage, preserve, and monitor one's professional growth and development? The process should be simple or else the task may be found to be too overwhelming and undesirable.


I was introduced to a professional portfolio when I was in my doctoral program, much too late in my professional journey. Yes, I had been a nurse for almost 30 years already. I would think it would be very amusing today to view my 30-year portfolio if I had known about a portfolio back then. I know we all find it amusing to look at old family albums and photographs, myself included. You know how we laugh at clothes and hairstyles that change through the years. Well, I am sure this would be no different, maybe more humorous to say the least. I want to briefly describe key considerations and uses for a professional portfolio that allows you to monitor and preserve your professional growth, development, and accomplishments, discuss essential components of a professional portfolio, and discuss advantages of an electronic versus a paper version.



Portfolio is not a new concept and has been around since the 1700s. Portfolio is a hinged cover or flexible case for carrying loose papers, pictures, or pamphlets. Another definition includes a case to carry documents such as a minister of state or a member of cabinet. Portfolio has also been defined as a set of pictures or drawings usually bound in book form or loose in a folder or a selection of a student's work compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress (, n.d.). Nursing adopted this concept only in the 1980s, a late user of the professional portfolio. But what is a professional portfolio to a nurse?


First, we need to know what a portfolio is not. It is not one's resume, nor is it one's curriculum vitae (CV). Both of these can be selected materials appropriate for one's portfolio, and both should be updated on a continuous basis to remain current. It is not a photo album or a scrapbook. It is not a collection of certificates and licensures. A professional portfolio is a collection of carefully selected materials that document one's competencies and illustrate one's expertise as a nurse (Oermann, 2002). A portfolio is a portable mechanism for evaluating competencies that may be otherwise difficult to assess, such as evidence-based improvements, use of scientific evidence in practice, professional behavior, and creative endeavors (Byrne et al., 2007). It is truly a reflection of one's growth and professional development as a nurse and should be used to demonstrate reflective critical thinking, lived experiences, narratives, and intrapersonal understanding that illustrate competence (Byrne, Schroeter, Carter, & Mower, 2009). In simpler terms, a portfolio is for others to review much like a photographer, artist, or designer who shows his or her work. It is a living document that demonstrates competency, critical thinking, values, beliefs, and skills over the course of your professional career. A portfolio provides evidence of the competencies and expertise that have been developed as a result of the nurse's experiences (Davis, 2015). It validates growth and professional development.



The use of a portfolio is not uncommon in other disciplines such as models, actors, architects, programmers, writers, and educators to showcase their work and achievements. Nursing has been slow to adopt the portfolio as a means of assessing growth and development, and it was not until the 1980s that it began to be used in the nursing discipline. Some organizations and associations are using the portfolio for continued competence and certification. A nurse can assess his or her own progress with review in achieving both personal and professional goals by preserving these accomplishments in a professional portfolio. A portfolio can also be used to enhance career planning and professional development similar to plans that we use in preparation for retirement. Where do we want to be in 10 years financially? 25 years? This is where we want to be, for instance, 10 years professionally.


One's professional portfolio can be used for annual performance evaluations and demonstrate achievements, growth, and development over the preceding year. It provides a comprehensive view of the path and journey one has taken to arrive where he or she is currently as a clinically skilled nurse (Davis, 2015). It is a means to validate performance. A professional portfolio can be used for accreditation surveys to document the high level of performance of nurses and the forever desire to accomplish personal growth and collectively within the nursing profession. If contemplating continuing education, a portfolio can be used to augment the application process and may be what makes one stand out as an applicant. If thinking about a career ladder or promotion, the portfolio may be the ticket. In one's busy life, it is easy to forget and document in order to highlight those accomplishments. That is why a portfolio is a living document and provides a vital means to keep an accurate and up-to-date record of one's professional career as a nurse (Davis, 2015).



There are two types of portfolios, best work and growth and development (Oermann, 2002). Best work portfolios provide evidence of one's competencies and expertise and are used as documentation for career ladder promotions, job applications, annual performance, accreditations, certifications, and initial and continuing education (Oermann, 2002). Best work or profile may be included that could specifically be reviewed by others for a specific purpose such as a promotion, award, licensure, or certification (Dennison, 2007). These materials are organized and labeled for ease of viewing by others. Growth and development portfolios are designed for one as a nurse to monitor one's progress in meeting professional and personal goals. One may select materials from this document to showcase in the best work portfolio (Oermann, 2002). Having both types in one's portfolio may be the best choice and serve multiple purposes.



What should be included in a professional portfolio? As previously mentioned, a CV or resume should be included. Also, records of immunizations that becomes necessary if planning on continuing higher education. This documentation would have to be included in any application to an institution of higher learning, and this is a great place to store it for easy access. A professional portfolio should contain copies of college or graduate school transcripts. Licenses, specialty certifications, and Basic Life Support (BLS), or other cards with renewal dates are also components of a professional portfolio. Continuing education certificates can easily be tracked and preserved in a portfolio, making recertifications and license renewals much easier and efficient (Davis, 2015). Any professional awards, scholarly publications, and presentations should also be included.


A professional portfolio should contain annual performance appraisals, dates of promotions, and letters of recommendation from current or previous employers (Davis, 2015). If at all possible, a copy of job descriptions for current and past positons would give an added benefit. A statement of one's nursing philosophy and personal goals should also be included. Other subjective documents include reflective narratives of case histories and patient experiences that are evidence of nursing practice. Letters of appreciation from supervisors, peers, or patients are additions to any portfolio, as well as letters of recommendations from supervisors or peers for career advancement (Davis, 2015). Maintain the portfolio to reflect development of knowledge and skills over time; keep it updated and accurate.



It probably really does not matter which way one's portfolio is completed, paper or electronic, as long as it is done. Paper may be easier for others, whereas too difficult for some and is more a personal preference. Paper copies may become bulky and hard to keep organized. Papers get lost, torn, and fade. A three-ring binder may be used and should include a table of contents if this is the form selected. However, the paper version may appear more like a scrapbook but may be less intimidating to many. What happens if the binder breaks? Where is it kept? Imagine how large it may become and how many volumes? Paper format may become more challenging to maintain, update, and keep current.


The electronic version may be more appealing. The portfolio is much easier to update and transmit, can be saved in multiple files, that is, thumb drive, hard drive, or file server, and is much more portable. There are software programs now available to make it easier for long-term career portfolios (Billings & Kowalski, 2008). A Web search can yield such programs. An electronic version may give a more professional appearance to the portfolio but does require some degree of computer literacy. The electronic version can provide a greater variety of documentation, as documents can be scanned in endlessly and saved in the portfolio.



If you do not have a professional portfolio, create one in whatever format is easiest for you. Engage in the process and be committed in preserving your growth and development during your nursing career. Make your portfolio work for you in planning your future continuing education, professional development, and educational and career goals. Implement this tool to showcase your ongoing education, clinical expertise and competence, leadership skills, and dedication to yourself and your nursing practice. Having an up-to-date professional portfolio is essential in your growth and development and provides the means by which to monitor your career. It provides you the ability to reflect on your progress and also communicates your accomplishments to others. Don't hesitate. Get started today!


Respectfully submitted,




President, ASPSN




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