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The 3 P’s of Portfolio Development: Practical, Portable, Professional

By Juliana Mower, MSN, RN, CNS, CNS-CP, CNOR

Even with the well-documented nursing shortage, a coveted perioperative position may be difficult to procure. What can you use to set yourself apart from the dozens of other candidates for a job? A well-crafted Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume only lists your educational background, employment history and professional accomplishments. What if you could show a prospective employer the quality of your work? You can – through a professional portfolio.

When used to document competencies, a portfolio becomes more than a repository for storing forms such as nursing licenses, certifications and letters of reference. A portfolio can be used to reflect your professional identity by including feedback from peers and colleagues, patient satisfaction surveys or thank-you notes, participation on committees or quality improvement projects, and contributions toward professional organizations (Casey & Egan, 2010). Consider adding an exemplar, an example of an extraordinary accomplishment, with associated evidence, that establishes your commitment to your profession and/or organization.

A portfolio may be used for more than interviewing purposes. It can serve as a valuable tool for performance evaluations through identification of personal strengths as well as areas for improvement. By including a self-assessment step, a personal development plan can be created (Williams & Jordan, 2007). Self-assessment is part of reflective learning. Nurses are familiar with reflective learning as this is the basis for debriefings: identifying what went well, what didn’t and designing a plan for improvements for next time (Casey & Dominic, 2010). Consider adding this element to your portfolio. It is a great way to track professional growth and demonstrates a commitment to life-long learning. Describing how learning was applied in practice provides much stronger evidence for linking knowledge to application of skills rather than an in-service roster which only identifies physical presence at an event.

Portfolio development is best approached proactively rather than retrospectively. Trying to access or reproduce evidence, even from the past month, can be difficult. It’s better to develop a portfolio over time, collecting the necessary documentation at the time of the event and then correlating these achievements in the CV or resume (Shirey, 2009).

Portfolios are beginning to be used for more than employment opportunities. The Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) recently launched a portfolio method of certification for advanced practice Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), the CNS-CP Professional Portfolio (CCI, 2019). This portfolio captures the essence of the practicing CNS through validation of contributions toward improving patient outcomes. In addition to documentation of meeting standards for advanced practice in the perioperative role, the portfolio contains a reflective component and a self-awareness exercise which is used to build the requirements for the next recertification cycle. The portfolio is then reviewed by three peers who hold the CNS-CP credential. Their independent review of the portfolio determines if the submission meets the requirements for certification, while at the same time providing valuable feedback to the applicant on the strength of their submission. Peer review encourages self-awareness for both the applicant and the reviewers through the dissemination of best practices. Receiving feedback from reviewers can be considered a value-add for the CNS-CP Professional Portfolio: perioperative CNSs frequently do not have a peer in their facility from whom to obtain constructive comments related to their practice.

Look for other uses of portfolios in the future, including as requirements for state re-licensure, clinical ladders and for specialty nursing certification and re-certification. As a tangible, continually evolving collection of activities that demonstrates continued competency, the portfolio might be the best way to accurately reflect the quality of care you provide for your patients every day.


Casey, D.C., & Egan, D. (2010). The use of professional portfolios and profiles for career enhancement. British Journal of Community Nursing, 15(11), 547-548; 550-552.

Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI). (2019). About CNS-CP certification. Retrieved from

Shirey, M.R. (2009). The nursing professional portfolio: Leveraging your talents. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 23(5), 241-244.

Williams, M., & Jordan, K. (2007). The nursing professional portfolio: A pathway to career development. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, 26(3), 125-131.

Juliana Mower, MSN, RN, CNS, CNS-CP, CNOR, is nurse manager, education development at CCI.



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