Professional portfolio development: Personally and professionally rewarding and satisfying

Image design: Helena Harrison

In Australia, registration and professional practice standards require nurses to maintain capability for practice and demonstrate continuing professional development (CPD).1-2

Engaging in CPD assists nurses to maintain standards for practice and fosters a lifelong approach to learning.3 Relevant CPD can increase confidence, capabilities and reduce work-related anxiety, resulting in higher standards of practice, continuous quality improvement and improved patient care.3 When focused on career aspirations, CPD boosts career progression.4 While nurses are motivated to engage in CPD, a key challenge is having a structured process to document outcomes to demonstrate competence that reflect standards for practice and recognition for CPD activities.3

In 2017, JCU Nursing and Midwifery created an online Master of Nursing course with three majors: Leadership and Management, Education, and Advanced Practice. A core subject in the courses focuses on developing a professional portfolio. Built on Cusack and Smith’s approach to portfolio development,3 this unique subject encourages students to apply knowledge and practical techniques to create a reflective portfolio they can adapt to meet their professional needs. Using a purposefully designed portfolio framework and customised templates, students are encouraged to reflect on their professional practice and document how they meet their standards for practice. Students are guided to identify and record CPD activities to demonstrate learning and development and produce evidence to validate learning and practice outcomes. Through this process, students understand the type and quality of evidence needed to effectively demonstrate their learning and performance. As a result, students compile quality evidence of both the process and products of their learning and practice – how they learn and develop and their outcomes.3-4

While the subject is challenging, students describe the outcome as personally and professionally rewarding. Students recognise a well-structured portfolio supported with reflective practice facilitates regular engagement in learning and development and provides a means to document professional competence. Students frequently express the value of structured reflection and CPD to their professional practice and pride in their career achievements. Students report how they used their portfolio as part of registration audits, successful job applications and promotions, and annual performance development plans. Graduates shared their motivation to continue to set personal and professional career goals. One graduate explained that they would never have dreamed of achieving a higher leadership position without learning the value of habitually undertaking, reflecting on, and documenting CPD in their professional portfolio.

A well-structured professional portfolio fosters a commitment to lifelong learning and supports nurses and midwives in maintaining standards for practice, meeting CPD obligations, and achieving career aspirations. The benefits of offering a subject that cultivates an understanding of the value of a professional portfolio to practice and the methods to develop and maintain an effective professional portfolio are limitless.

Disclosure: This research has not been previously published in part or in full elsewhere.

Conflict of interest: All authors are employees of the university offering the subject within a suite of nursing and midwifery degree programs. The authors report no other conflict of interest.

  1. Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Professional standards. NMBA. 2021. Accessed July 04, 2021.
  2. Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Registration standard: Continuing professional development. NMBA. Accessed July 04, 2021.
  3. Cusack L, Smith M. Portfolios for nursing, midwifery and other health professions. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2020.
  4. Mlambo M, Silén C, McGrath C. Lifelong learning and nurses’ continuing professional development, a metasynthesis of the literature. BMC nursing, 2021; 20(1) Article 62: 1-13.

Dr Narelle Biedermann, PhD, MDefSt, GCNSc(ClinEd), BNSc(Hons), RN is Senior Lecturer, Co-ordinator – JCU Postgraduate Nursing Online, Course Co-ordinator – Master of Nursing at JCU Townsville, Bebegu Yumba campus, College of Healthcare Sciences, Division of Tropical Health and Medicine

Dr Tracey Ahern, PhD, BNSc(Hons), BEd, RN is Lecturer, Deputy Co-ordinator – JCU Postgraduate Nursing Online, JCU Townsville, Bebegu Yumba campus, College of Healthcare Sciences, Division of Tropical Health and Medicine

Dr Helena Harrison, PhD, MN(Ed), RN is Senior Lecturer, Nursing and Midwifery, JCU Townsville, Bebegu Yumba campus, College of Healthcare Sciences, Division of Tropical Health and Medicine

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