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Plan your way to portfolio confidence in five easy steps

By Maureen O'Sullivan, MRPharmS

You have taken the first step towards joining the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Faculty and applied for eligibility. You can now access a suite of additional RPS resources and a link to your portfolio appears when you log in to your member dashboard.

Regardless of your previous experience of creating a portfolio there is a lot to get to grips with and it might seem overwhelming to the novice portfolio builder. To you get started, Clinical Pharmacist has identified five simple steps to plan your way to portfolio confidence (summarised in the Box, below).

Grasp the concept

“When I realised that it was less about the end assessment and more about starting to reflect on myself as a practitioner, it all became a lot less daunting,” admits Kathryn Giles, professional learning and development designer at Boots. “By mapping myself into the Advanced Pharmacy Framework [APF] I can see where most of my experience lies. I can then identify what I need to do to develop other parts of my practice.”

Robert Elliot-Cooke, rotational clinical pharmacist at Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, adds that the APF is not a tick-box exercise. “You do not have to complete the whole APF,” he explains. “That is not the idea. It is about representing what you do and at what level you are practising.”

Mr Elliot-Cooke believes that starting out will be a big step for people who have never had a portfolio before. However, he points out that most pharmacists will have some experience of compiling evidence in this way. “Pharmacists prepare a portfolio during their preregistration year, so most people will understand what a portfolio is. The difference with the advanced practice portfolio [APP] is being able to map your development onto a framework,” he suggests.

Mrs Giles is in the early stages of building her APP and has started to gather pieces of evidence to add to it. “I am finding my feet at the moment,” she reveals, predicting that the process might be similar to the journey she went on with making continual professional development records when they became a regulatory requirement in 2009. “It will become more natural and easier to do once I begin to understand how to do it,” adds Mrs Giles.

Identify your starting point

In the first of a series of Faculty webinars designed to help practitioners build their portfolios using the APP, Chloe Benn, who was a member of the Faculty development group at the RPS, says that most people will have the foundations of a portfolio already. “It might be only a jumble of different things in different places — in folders, a pile of papers or electronic files,” she explains, adding that for most people this collection of information is likely to be poorly structured.

In the “How to build your Faculty portfolio” webinar, Ms Benn describes how members can use the APP to organise and structure information and then reference and crosslink it to the competencies in the APF.

Mr Elliot-Cooke, who was also on the Faculty development group, has four years’ experience of building a portfolio using the Advanced to Consultant Level Framework — which has been updated and rebranded as the APF by the RPS in collaboration with expert practitioners.

“I started off by adding my best pieces of work to a box under my desk with no particular details of my involvement in them,” he recalls. “This gradually grew into an organised folder that was divided into the different clusters. I started to detail my involvement in each piece of work and the level of practice that I thought I had demonstrated through doing it.”

Mr Elliot-Cooke is now around a third of the way through adding his existing portfolio to the APP, but many of his entries have been about the new things he has been doing since the Faculty was launched.

He says: “A big part of having a portfolio is representing your development. When it comes to credentialing the assessors will be looking at your best pieces of work, but for your own benefit your portfolio should demonstrate some element of progression through your career as well.”

If you do not have an existing collection of work, Mr Elliot-Cooke recommends you identify any achievements in your recent career and start from there. “Ask yourself ‘what am I proud of’ and make that your first entry,” he suggests. “You can also look at your job description and add that as an entry.”

He goes on: “Once you have mapped these to relevant competencies, you will have become more familiar with the APF and this will unlock how you map other pieces of work.”

Collaborate with others

“There is great value in having people around you who are also starting to find their way through the process,” says Mrs Giles. “My manager and I have discussed different types of evidence that we can use and how to map them to the framework.”

Mr Elliot-Cooke concurs: “Getting together with your colleagues can help you explore new ways to approach the APF and add to your portfolio. Everyone has a certain area that they struggle finding evidence for. Grabbing one of your peers and working through it together can help.”

Mentorship is another option: Mr Elliot-Cooke was assigned a mentor by his manager a few years ago. “Sometimes we meet to check how I am getting on with my portfolio and at other times we will discuss my practice in more detail,” he explains. “We also talk about the future and how I can make sure that the projects I take on and the work that I am doing will improve my portfolio.”

In addition to mentorship and getting together with colleagues, Ms Benn — who is also principal pharmacist for women’s and children’s services at the Royal Free Hospital in London — suggests that participation in RPS local practice forums can provide regular and local support to pharmacists.

Be resourceful

Mr Elliot-Cooke was involved in the design of the electronic tool that members need to use to build their portfolio — the APP. He says: “The online portfolio is easy to use. It is a three-step process — you add an entry, map it to the framework and then review it.”

It is just one of the many resources being produced by the Faculty to help members develop and demonstrate their practice and to assist them in their preparation for Faculty assessment.

The webinar conducted by Ms Benn is a practical, real-time guide to adding an entry to the APP and explains, using specific examples, how different pieces of work can be mapped to the competencies in the APF. The next in the Faculty webinar series is a guide on gathering evidence.

Other resources, including professional curricula, handbooks and quick reference guides are available from the Faculty section of the RPS website.

Allocate portfolio time

“Finding the time to add to your portfolio is one of those things that has got to become part of your weekly routine or it will just fall by the wayside,” warns Mr Elliot-Cooke.

According to him, a major advantage of the electronic system is the ability to add to your portfolio on the go. “If an opportunity for a new project comes up I can quickly log into my portfolio, type in a sentence or two and then revisit it later to add the detail,” he explains. However, he always ensures that he puts aside some time each week to make sure his portfolio remains up to date.

Mrs Giles agrees that setting aside dedicated time to do the work is useful. “I tend to do the work in concerted periods,” she explains. “I will set aside a couple of hours to work on my portfolio — either during the working week or at the weekend — making notes to myself in between these times when something comes up that I think could go into it.”

 Five step guide to getting started

 Hand holding light bulb

Grasp the concept

Your portfolio serves to demonstrate what you do in your role as a pharmacist, whether you treat patients directly or not. As your career progresses your portfolio will grow and when you are ready you can submit it to the Faculty for assessment.

Identify your starting point

Review what you currently have that demonstrates what you do as a pharmacist. Your most recent curriculum vitae or job description can be a good starting point. As you become familiar with the competencies in the Advanced Pharmacy Framework you will begin to recognise other items to add to your portfolio.

 Sports starting line
 Hands together

Collaborate with others

Meet with your colleagues to share examples from your portfolio and identify new pieces of evidence you can add to it. Discussing your progress with a mentor or manager can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to do to ensure your portfolio continues to expand.

Be resourceful

Use the tools and resources available on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Faculty website. They have all been designed to help you understand what you need to do at every step of your Faculty journey. Also look out for webinars, local practice forum presentations and conference sessions about the Faculty.


Allocate portfolio time

Setting aside some time each week to spend on your portfolio is important. It ensures your portfolio is always up to date and keeps it fresh in your mind for when things come up that you want to use as evidence.

Picture credits: Gudella, Yuri Arcurs, MaxiSports, Irochka, Unteroffizier |

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist DOI: 10.1211/CP.2013.11125077

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