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Nursing is one of the important professions in medicine and very crucial in ensuring public health. The increasing emphasis on population health in many parts of the world has made it necessary to ensure that knowledge and skills of public health professionals is up to date. Consequently, public health nurses (PHNs) are required to be well acquainted with knowledge about the measurement of health status, data analysis strategies, organizational change, health economics and politics of health. This is basically because PHNs work hand in hand with other groups of the society to solve problems, develop, evaluate and implement health policy, measure the quality of health care outcome and develop an analysis on how social determinants affect public health. Nurses too require knowledge and skills necessary for working with other interdisciplinary teams in the sector in order to ensure quality services to the public at a reasonable cost (Schaffer, Nelson & Litt, 2008).
The need for competent nursing body has made nursing schools and nursing regulatory organizations from different parts of the world to develop more advanced strategies for improving learning and evaluating competence among traditional Registered and Bachelor of Science in nursing students. One of the newly introduced strategies in nursing education is the use of learning portfolios. Initially, this form of learning was famous in areas such as performing arts where artists used portfolios to evaluate their past performances in order to improve their weaknesses. However research has shown that learning portfolios have gained popularity in nursing education as an efficient method for documenting and evaluating student learning and outcomes of the program. Some nurses association, such as the American Nurses Association (ANA) are using learning portfolios in determining competence of nurses during registration. Nursing schools in U.S and Australia currently consider learning portfolios as part of course work and it is used in grading of students for graduation and other awards (Cangelosi, 2008).
Basically, learning portfolio is constituted of a collection of student’s work that best reflect his or her acquisition of knowledge and the development of critical thinking. Portfolio shows the learners performance since the admission date and therefore it is possible for educators to determine individual student’s accomplishment of specific competencies, strength and areas for improvement. They also help individualization of learning through documentation and evaluation of the entire curriculum. On the side of learners, portfolios help students to reflect on their performances hence improving their critical thinking while in school and even in their future professions. This helps them to improve their performances and practical competence as nurses. Students and educators are able to realize challenging areas in nursing education and this helps greatly in developing better learning strategies (Taylor, Stewart & Bidwell, 2009).
Research carried on Baccalaureate nursing students show that learning portfolios actually give students knowledge to answer application questions on standardized tests. According to the survey carried on students about the efficiency of portfolio evaluation, majority of the students agreed that learning portfolios helped them to learn practical skills in public health nursing. Learning portfolios give students the ability to use population based public health ideas and languages taught in classes to improve their competences in application areas. Efforts and time involved in compiling the learning portfolios help students to appreciate the wide scope of practice in nursing and reflect on what is expected in nursing profession. This is important to student as they are able to think outside class work hence they are able to tackle application questions in standardized tests. According to the study conducted on Baccalaureate nursing students, portfolios help students to have the actual picture of what is entailed in nursing, knowledge that is very important when answering of application questions. Knowledge acquired by students as they attend to unique experiences such as attending to prisoners, terminally ill patients and expectant mothers help students in answering practical questions in standardized tests and in registration applications after graduation (Cangelosi, 2008).
When it comes to competence in clinical area, research shows that learning portfolios plays a very important role in ensuring that students are conversant with core clinical knowledge as professional nurses. Research shows that learning portfolios equip students with knowledge about clinical experience and adequate artifacts to demonstrate public health nurses competencies. According to the research conducted on Baccalaureate nursing student, portfolio learning is aright measure of the clinical knowledge that students learn in the course. It is evident that clinical evaluation portfolio constitutes all the basis of clinical nursing and this makes it an important tool for teachers to determine clinical competences of their students before they graduate (Schaffer, Nelson & Litt, 2008).
In Australia, clinical competence is assessed through direct observation as students attend to patients in their practical, class evaluation tests and by a presentation of a portfolio. According to the report published on ‘Nurse Educator’, portfolios help students to demonstrate their understanding and achievement of clinical practices relative to the predetermined clinical competences set by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council. Generally, learning portfolios help student to link each competency standards set by their educators and other bodies in control with what they have acquired through their course. Through learning portfolios, nursing students are given an opportunity to write explanations on clinical practice placements on how the activity demonstrated their competency. It therefore evident that portfolio learning in nursing education supports competency in clinical area if well designed.