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Profile of a professional

O'Malley, Patricia Anne RN, CNS, PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.MIN.0000350907.14998.87
Department: Sky's the Limit

Portfolios are gaining consensus as the path for licensure, employment, certification, and advancement.

Patricia Anne O'Malley is a nurse researcher at Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, Ohio.

Nursing is increasingly being called to demonstrate lifelong learning and sustained competency in practice. Increasing regulations for more evidence of knowledge, competence, and outcomes—plus expanding cultural expectations to market skills and self—are moving nursing from a continuing education to a professional portfolio model.1 Just as hospitals participate in voluntary credentialing, portfolios are gaining consensus as the path for initial and continuing licensure, employment, certification, and advancement in nursing.1,2

While standards for portfolio organization and type remain undecided, the literature reveals the critical elements for the nursing portfolio. Whether you're a student, clinical nurse, educator, or advanced practice nurse, a professional portfolio is a must for your current and future practice.2

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Résumé vs. portfolio

The résumé is a traditional tool that provides limited information about an individual's education, work experience, awards, and references.2,3 A résumé is best described as a summary document. A portfolio is a living document that demonstrates competency, critical thinking, values, beliefs, and skills.3,4 It isn't a logbook, nor a diary or a collection of certificates.4 It's a vivid description of competency by providing evidence of what an individual knows—how knowledge has been applied in practice with the influence of values and learning over time.4 The writer and reader of the portfolio witness the journey of a nursing career from diverse sources of evidence and written reflections. A portfolio requires autonomy, self-direction, reflection, the ability to organize, and honesty.2,4–6

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Core elements

Reflection is the critical element of the portfolio. Reflection is more than description and requires linking practice with theory, evidence, actions, thinking, values, and beliefs.6 The nurse selects, reflects, and then describes how knowledge was applied for a specific critical event through critical thinking and toward outcomes for the patient, family, organization, or self. Knowledge may be empirical, ethical, esthetical, personal, or intuitive. Based on authentic evidence and personal analysis, the writer and reader can judge competence and growth, which are seen by the dynamic action of knowledge, practice, ethics, and values.4,7

It's wise to capture critical events of your career as soon as they occur.1 (For critical events you may want to include for reflection in your portfolio, see “Sample of critical events to include in a portfolio.”) Your reflection of the event can be briefly described and dated for later reflection.

Remember to respect the confidentiality of persons described in the reflection. Don't use patient names or other identifying data. Remember a portfolio is as much a journey as an end-product.8

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The substance

A vision statement is the cornerstone of the portfolio. In one page, the writer should describe reasons for entering nursing, a vision for nursing, and a brief description of the career path.6,9 Describing how one learns best and ones strengths and weaknesses, values, and beliefs provides a personal base for the portfolio.

Brief written reflections attached to portfolio sections or elements help the writer and the reader know the breath and depth of the individual's career in nursing. Describe how a workshop extended your practice. Tell the story of how your nursing care made a difference in various patient outcomes. Describe the ways you enabled a student nurse to learn a procedure based on principles of adult learning. Describe how your experiences and learning have prepared you for advancement or further education. (See “Suggested sections for a nursing portfolio”, which describes possible categories you can use to define sections of a portfolio and possible sources of evidence to include.)2,3,5,10,11

Include photographs whenever possible in each section of the document. Use a highlighter to note milestones. Each section should be examined yearly and reflections updated accordingly. Review the portfolio monthly or even weekly rather than only during the annual performance evaluation.8

Portfolios require time and thought. However, the investment in self reaps great rewards in job satisfaction and career planning. The portfolio becomes a source of inspiration and provides tangible evidence of personal and professional growth.10 Portfolios tell the reader where you've been, where you are now, and where you're going in the journey of professional nursing.12

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Portfolios can be organized using binders with dividers, folders, or an electronic file. Evidence can be organized according to a designated section, blended in a variety of sections, or paired with existing competency statements related to practice. Whether paper or electronic format, store your portfolio in a safe place. No one knows the extent of the loss of career evidence that occurred with hurricane Katrina.1,13 Scanning important documents, converting sections to PDF files, and storing on a CD-ROM in a safety deposit box can protect your portfolio from being destroyed by disasters. Once set up and organized, portfolios are easy to maintain with disciplined updates.5

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Now and later

In the near future, a portfolio will be a standard requirement for licensure, certification, hiring, and advancement in nursing. Web-based standardized portfolio programs may provide the best evidence supporting the relationship of knowledge and competence to patient and organizational outcomes. For now, portfolios can assist in planning education and professional goals.3 Portfolios can now help market experience and skills for advancement or job change.8

Finally, the nursing portfolio is a precious record of caring, achievement, and dedication. The portfolio demonstrates how one nurse made a difference for patients, colleagues, families, and communities. How about starting your portfolio now?

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Sample of critical events to include in a portfolio

Nursing orientation

  • What was mastered and what remains to be learned
  • A difficult preceptor
  • The perfect preceptor
  • First orientee trained and mentored

Nursing practice

  • The first resuscitation
  • The first birth
  • The most difficult labor
  • The first death
  • The first time in charge
  • The most difficult family
  • How my practice changed over the past year


  • Difficult consultation
  • Unplanned patient outcome and my response
  • First year lessons in a leadership position
  • Considerations for return to graduate school
  • Working with a difficult peer/how I helped change the relationship


  • How I made a difference
  • Peer support
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Suggested sections for a nursing portfolio

Section name



  • Biography, Vision statement


  • Current record of education, positions, awards, honors


  • Copy of licensure, certification(s)
  • Completed skills checklists, competency evaluations
  • Performance evaluations
  • Critical events during one's career
  • Projects, policies, procedures, benchmarks
  • Summary of cases in which nursing care significantly impacted patient outcomes
  • Job descriptions and how practice reflects the requirements


  • Group meeting minutes
  • List of nurses mentored or assisted in development
  • Letters of appreciation
  • Volunteer activities


  • Transcripts
  • Presentations, flyers, evaluations, handouts
  • Publications
  • Class evaluations
  • Contact hour proposals
  • Patient education handouts
  • Continuing education certificates
  • In-services attended

Contact information

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1. Dion K. Nursing portfolios: drivers, challenges, and benefits. Dean's Notes. 2006;27(4). Available from: Anthony J. Jannetti, Inc., National Student Nurses Association, Pitman, NJ.
2. Billings D, Kowalski K. Teaching tips: learning portfolios. J Contin Educ Nurs. 2005;36(4):149–150.
3. Dennison RD. What goes into your professional portfolio and what you'll get out of it. American Nurse Today. 2007;2(1):42–43.
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10. Mee CL. Archiving your career. Nursing. 2006;36(9):6.
11. Jones JM, Sackett K, Erdley WS, Blyth JB. E-portfolios in nursing education: not your mother's resume. In: Oermann MH, Heinrich KT, eds. Annual Review of Nursing Education. Vol. 5. New York, NY: Springer Publishing; 2006:245–258.
12. Moore LJ. Professional portfolios: a powerful vehicle for reflective exercises and recording work based on learning. Work Based Learning in Primary Care. 2006;4(1):25–35.
13. Webb C, Endacott R, Gray M, et al. Models of portfolios. Med Educ. 2002;36(10):897–898.
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