Vital Signs: Professional portfolios, evidence of continuing professional development

By: Trish Lowe MACN

Australian nurses and midwives are required to develop professional portfolios as evidence of their continuing professional development (CPD). The CPD registration standard applying to all registered nurses and midwives was updated in 2016. 

It now contains clarifying statements from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) which state that, “continuing professional development is the means by which members of the profession maintain, improve and broaden their knowledge, expertise and competence, and develop the personal and professional qualities required throughout their professional lives” (NMBA 2016b, p. 4). The key words, “maintain, improve and broaden,” are all important, and can be utilised to inform the selection of appropriate CPD activities, as nurses and midwives strive to meet the mandatory registration standards. 

Australian nurses and midwives are required to complete a minimum 20 hours of continuing professional development during each registration period (1 June – 31 May) (NMBA, 2016b). Nurse practitioners and registered nurses or midwives in possession of endorsements – such as those pertaining to the prescription of scheduled medicines – are required to complete an additional 10 hours per year (NMBA, 2016b). Health professionals wishing to retain dual registration as both registered nurses and midwives are required to complete 40 hours of CPD, through activities which are deemed applicable to both disciplines (NMBA 2016b). For instance, providing in-service education on post-operative analgesia or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation guidelines, apply equally to both nurses and midwives.

In some cases – such as in the presence of significant illness – the NMBA may (upon consideration of a written application) grant an exemption from the CPD standard (NMBA, 2016b). However, this cannot be assumed. Whilst inability to meet the standard is not an offence, the NMBA may impose conditions on, or refuse registration of, nurses and midwives who fail to do so (NMBA, 2016b). Furthermore, failure to meet the standard may give rise to mandatory health, conduct or performance actions against the individual and be used in disciplinary proceedings as evidence of what constitutes appropriate practice under Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (2009) (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), 2017).

Nurses and midwives are required to maintain records of all relevant CPD activities, relating to the proceeding five years (NMBA, 2016b). The most appropriate way to do this is by developing a professional portfolio. Portfolios are used by many professions for a variety of reasons. Within organisations, a portfolio might be used to illustrate and document the allocation of responsibilities or a back catalogue of work but in the context of professional development, portfolios are used to document and provide evidence of learning (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3).

Andre, Heartfield and Cusack (2017) define professional portfolios as, “structured evidence demonstrating that an individual is meeting their professional standards for practice including an indication of the professional’s vision of future growth and capacity building”. Adding further that it is a document, however stored, in which “professional development activities, experiences, competencies, achievements and goals,” are presented (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3). Development of a professional portfolio allows all claims to be legitimised, validated and documented (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3). Consequently, portfolios are becoming increasingly utilised as evidence of guided learning, career planning and advancement (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 5).

Importantly, a portfolio represents more than just a collection of documents. A well-constructed portfolio facilitates reflective analysis and evidence of cyclical, lifelong learning. Health professionals are encouraged to undertake an annual appraisal of their knowledge gaps, learning goals and requirements for future skill building. Therefore, relevant practice standards must be viewed in combination with the individual’s scope of practice and clinical context to direct professional development activities (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3). 

Nurses and midwives are, “responsible for autonomous practice,” with the term practice encompassing both “clinical and non-clinical roles,” and defined as, “any paid or unpaid role where the nurse uses their nursing skills and knowledge” (NMBA, 2016a). Therefore, a professional portfolio allows individuals to demonstrate competence across the “personal, professional, organisational, regulatory, social and technological dimensions” of practice (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3). Portfolios take time to compile but can be done so utilising an array of hard copy, or digital mediums (Andre, Heartfield & Cusack 2017, p. 3).

Many professional bodies offer portfolio development software to their members. For example, the Australian College of Nursing, offers a professional portfolio that allows members to effectively track and monitor their CPD activities. 

In 2016, the NMBA revised the mandatory registration standards guiding practice for Australian nurses and midwives. These revisions clarified the professional development responsibilities of health professionals wishing to obtain and retain registration in Australia, as outlined under National Law (2009). Of vital importance, is the onus on nurses and midwives to engage in critical reflection in order to identify learning activities, which facilitate professional growth and to record these in an acceptable manner. One of the most effective ways to gather and store this information is within a professional portfolio. 


Andre, K, Heartfield, M & Cusack, L 2017, Portfolios for health professionals, 3rd edn., Elsevier, Chatswood

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency 2017, Legislation, AHPRA, Melbourne, accessed 17 August 2017, <>

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia 2016a, Registered nurse standards for practice, NMBA, Melbourne, accessed 17 August 2017, <>

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia 2016b, Registration standard: Continuing professional development, NMBA, Melbourne, accessed 3 August 2017, <>

The Australian College of Nursing offers a range short face to face continuing professional development courses across Australia. To book your space at one of these training days, head to their 2019 calendar now.