Beyond The Resume

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

How to compile your nursing portfolio. These compilations of your competency may soon be required for relicensure. Here’s how to put all the pieces together.

Once upon a time, you only had to show up at a hospital and say you were an RN, and you’d be hired on the spot. You were pretty much on your own in terms of enhancing your professional skills and knowledge. In those days, you didn’t have a professional nursing portfolio because you didn’t need one. But today you do, thanks to the competitive job market, complex health care environment, and a national movement to find ways to measure and ensure clinical competency. In this climate, some states are considering making nursing portfolios a requirement for relicensure.

As a critical care nurse, you must maintain a high standard of practice and continuing education (CE), so documenting your accomplishments makes sense even if your state doesn’t yet require a nursing portfolio.

To find out what a nursing portfolio is and how to assemble yours, read on.

What’s a nursing portfolio?

A portfolio differs from a resume in length and content. Typically, your resume is brief, summarizing your professional accomplishments and experiences in one or two pages. Your portfolio backs up your resume and supplements it. For example, you wouldn’t list all of your CE activities on your resume, but you’d keep these records in your nursing portfolio. It’s also a place to keep important documents and records together and organized.

Besides documenting where you’ve been in your professional life, the portfolio can help you assess your practice and skills and plans for the future. And you can use a nursing portfolio to market special skills, such as teaching, lecturing, or preceptoring.

Assembling your portfolio

Now let’s look at what goes into your portfolio and how you assemble it. Start simple: You can use a three-ring binder with plastic insert pages or a pocket folder. Categorize and arrange information as follows.

Professional credentials. Make copies of your professional licenses and certifications, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and national certifications from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This is also an easy way to keep track of renewal dates.

Education. Include diplomas, transcripts, and course listings, including research projects, special papers, and presentations.
CE. File your course certificates and an annual summary of course work for easy reference. Be sure to include any noncredit courses you’ve taken.

Job appraisals and references. Include copies of your favorable performance appraisals. You’re entitled to them, so make it your business to get copies. If you’re leaving a job, or your manager is leaving, as for a letter of reference; in today’s mobile society, you may have trouble getting a reference from a former employer. Also include complimentary notes you’ve received from patients or clients.

Samples of your work. If you’ve designed, developed, or written any teaching materials, forms, or brochures, include copies. Also include copies of any articles you’ve published.

Presentations. Document any formal presentations you’ve given, such as staff-development sessions, community education, and grand rounds.

Professional associations. Include memberships, offices you’ve held, committee work, and descriptions of special projects you’ve worked on.

Awards. Include awards and citations from employers, community groups, and professional associations. Don’t overlook perfect attendance awards and service awards.

Other professional activities. Keep a record of interdisciplinary committees and community projects in which you’ve participated, including public screening programs and health fairs. Document teaching and training activities, including acting as a preceptor to new hires and working with students. You should also keep track of how many hours you work each year.

Volunteer activities. List those that are directly related to health care, such as work with hospice, clinics, blood banks, and parish nursing.

Accomplishments. Keep a special section on important projects and programs that you initiated, administered, managed, or played a key part in, such as media events, starting up new departments, or major reorganization projects.

Because nurses are notorious for downplaying their accomplishments, many experts recommend designing a work sheet that you can complete annually with categories to help you reflect on your experiences. For example, you might have a section on “management experience,” where you would list any charge or supervisory experience you had, as well as budgeting, scheduling, and personnel responsibilities. This type of review could also help you identify transferable skills.

Who needs a portfolio now?

Nurses in Ontario and the United Kingdom must meet standards of mandatory portfolio management as proof of clinical competency for license renewal. In the United States, Texas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma are testing a competency model which would require nurses to maintain a professional portfolio for license renewal. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing also has developed a model, the Continued Competency Accountability Profile.

Although each model has differences, they share common denominators. Besides listing their accomplishments and experiences, nurses must do a self-assessment of their skills and knowledge and develop a comprehensive action plan for professional growth and development. This type of portfolio would be much more than an accumulation of information; it also reflects each nurse’s commitment to professional excellence.

If your state adopts this type of model, you might have to indicate that you maintain a professional portfolio when your license comes up for renewal. The state nursing board will probably audit a small number of renewals each year to check for compliance.

Cross Country Staffing, the largest travel nursing agency in the country, maintains electronic portfolios on all of its nurses.

“Gone are the days when a college transcript or CE certificate of completion will suffice for measuring and ensuring competency,” says Franklin A. Shaffer, RN, EdD, ScD, vice-president for education and professional development for Cross Country Staffing and executive director of Cross Country University. “A career portfolio assists with documenting this lifelong learning process and attests to one’s continued competency and commitment.”

The time has come to create a permanent record of your professional life, even if your state nursing board doesn’t require it yet. Start building one now, and you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

Reprinted with permission from Critical Care Choices 2000 All rights reserved.

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