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The Importance of a Professional Nursing Portfolio

Analysis  |  By Michelle Clarke  
   April 19, 2019

Portfolios house evidence of the increased knowledge, experiences, skills, and abilities nurses achieve throughout their careers, displaying their personal mastery and professional maturity.

Editor's note: The following is a lightly edited excerpt from the upcoming book, Building Your Professional Portfolio: A Primer for Nurses.

The concept of a professional portfolio is not a new concept in nursing, but a review of available literature reminds nursing leaders of its value regarding personal and professional development and advancement for nurses.  

A well-developed portfolio is a chronological, visual representation of a nurse's professional growth. The portfolio does not replace a nurse's curriculum vitae (CV) or résumé, but rather it is the supporting documentation that validates what is stated on the CV. Whereas a nurse's CV or résumé is an overview of past education, employment, skills and other pertinent professional activities, the portfolio provides a detailed look at a nurse's accomplishments.

Purpose of Portfolios

Portfolios are a visual way to look at all the career experiences nurses have encountered in their lives and across the many paths they have chosen—to celebrate the successes, to learn from challenges, and to enthusiastically anticipate whatever comes next.

Each portfolio is a collection of exemplars, artifacts, and other evidence organized in an electronic or hard-copy binder, for example, for a specific purpose or audience. Each nurse will build his or her portfolio based on its intended purpose, whether personal, academic, or professional advancement.

Creating a master portfolio that can be adapted when needed can provide a foundation for extracting whatever artifacts are required for specifically targeted audiences (e.g., new hire or career advancement). They showcase nurses' knowledge, skills, experiences, and accomplishments related to selected goals or objectives. Portfolios are NOT prescriptive; they are fluid and dynamic, providing past and present evidence (artifacts) demonstrating competence and competency related to experience, professional practices, processes, quality, and relationships.

Benefits of a Portfolio

The primary purpose of a master portfolio is to document, categorize, and showcase knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA); growth; and progress as an individual, a student, and as a professional. This is especially critical for healthcare providers and nursing students learning and working in increasingly complex communities of education and practice. Building a portfolio invites nurses to engage creatively throughout the process to do the following:

  • Establish a strategic record of personal, academic, and professional activities and accomplishments over time
  • Guide critical decisions related to personal choices and volunteer activities, goals for education and training, and professional opportunities
  • Tangibly demonstrate learning and KSAs in specific areas of study and practice
  • Validate and improve competence through narratives that connect reflective practice to practice standards and advance relevant and purposeful competencies through continual professional development
  • Provide more detailed exemplars for performance-based interviews, applications for employment, scholarships, grants, bonuses, or promotions
  • Speak to specific qualifications required for various positions when entering academia or the workforce and for transitioning into new roles
  • Document required artifacts to illustrate portfolio-based competency assessments for regulatory agencies, accreditations, performance appraisals or evaluations, or certifications (e.g., VA Nursing Professional Standards Board reviews; American Nurses Credentialing Center certification renewals, American Academy for Preceptor Advancement certifications for Preceptor Specialists)
  • Explore and map the quality, safety, and expansiveness of personal mastery, academic progress, and professional development (e.g., serving on various committees, projects and task force groups, and interprofessional collaborative teams; completing preceptorships and mentorships)
  • Guide academic and career planning (e.g., artifacts for progressive career ladders)
  • Reflect on personal growth and development acquired through study, work, and applications of knowledge to meeting personal goals and gaining wisdom (e.g., show enhanced critical thinking skills and abilities to safely engage in complex projects or activities)
  • Capture previous work and lived experiences, challenges met, and life lessons learned for academic or work credits
  • Communicate the highest level of personal mastery and professional preparation through multiple media (e.g., technology) and other artifacts

Portfolios contribute to any conversation nurses will have as they grow and develop personally, academically, and professionally, regardless of the paths they take. Portfolios are significant resources for nurses to showcase competence and practice improvements, with artifacts demonstrating abilities to narrate lived experiences and the insight gained through reflection and reflective practice.

Building Your Portfolio: A Primer for Nurses by Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, APN CS, RN-BC, P-PCA, FAAN, and Solimar Figueroa, PhD, MHA, MSN, BSN, RN, P-PCA is now available for preorder and expected to publish in May 2019.


Portfolios are a visual way to showcase nurses' career achievements.

Nurses can showcase personal mastery and professional preparation through portfolios.

Nurses at all levels can benefit from creating a professional portfolio.

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