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Making your development portfolio work for you

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Keeping your CPD portfolio up to date need not be a time-consuming chore. It helps you see the bigger picture and could make or break your chances at a job interview, as Andy Young explains.

All nurses are meant to keep a CPD portfolio as part of their PREP requirements. But in reality it can often consist of little more than a box file stuffed full of paper and hidden in a cupboard somewhere. But putting one together does not have to be a time-consuming chore and can serve as much more than simply avoiding a last-minute panic in the unlikely event of the NMC requesting to ‘spot check’ it.

A portfolio is a record of your clinical and professional nursing skills supported by a body of evidence. It also serves as a record of your clinical experience and journey from novice practitioner to expert. Too often as nurses we get caught up in clinical activity and fail to see the wood for the trees. The very process of developing and updating a portfolio forces you to take a step back and see the ‘bigger picture’. It can also help you think about what you do in terms of evidence.

At interview it is very common for nurses to be asked to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to describe what they are able to offer a multidisciplinary team. Those who have developed a portfolio will be in a better position to articulate their thoughts and feelings about practice and give detailed examples of how they have made a difference. They will also have a plan for dealing with any gaps in their knowledge and developing their career.

Think of the portfolio as a toolbox. In it should go all the tools of the nursing trade: skills, knowledge, experience, attitudes, beliefs and the additional bits and pieces that we accumulate on our nursing journey, such as feedback and references. Today’s nurses are expected to be thoughtful practitioners, so it is important to include reflections on critical incidents in practice - they do not have to be ‘life-or-death’ situations.

Nurses should never forget that they can make a difference as individuals. Including in your portfolio reflections on ‘defining moments’ - both highs and lows - can help. The value of being able to recognise and articulate such events should not be underestimated.

You should not be afraid to include your own views on what is going on in nursing beyond your area of practice. Demonstrating an awareness of political and policy issues will impress potential employers, particularly if you can relate them to what you do in practice.

Similarly, you can learn much from positive and (constructive) negative feedback so include any comments from line managers, colleagues and possibly patients and carers.

Choosing what to put in a portfolio and deciding what to leave out can be hard but ultimately you should choose the best evidence and think in terms of quality rather than quantity.

Only a portfolio that is kept up to date will accurately reflect your current level of knowledge, experience and self-awareness. However, after a hard shift how many nurses want to sit down and update their portfolio? Like healthy eating, portfolio development is about finding a diet that works for you. Unfortunately there are no quick-fix solutions and taking drastic action the day before an interview, for example, is not a recipe for success.

Instead do a little at a time and try to be consistent. You should not view portfolio work as being separate from your working life. Keep the portfolio at work rather than on a shelf at home and discuss some of the content in clinical supervision or with a colleague.

Finally, don’t dwell too much on things that go wrong in your practice - no one is perfect and the important thing is to show what you have learnt. Ultimately a portfolio should demonstrate your progress and achievements, so view the process of developing one as an opportunity rather than as a threat.


What should be in your portfolio toolbox?

  • Up-to-date copy of CV
  • Critical incident review
  • Personal and professional feedback
  • Defining moments - reflection
  • Making a difference - reflection
  • What’s going on? Health policy and politics
  • Action plan for developing skills and knowledge


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Pretty good information and advice. Article keeps it simple, breaks it down and doesn't swamp you in loads of boring paragraphs that would lose your interest. A good guide to refer back to time and time again to keep you on the right track!

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