The Education Portfolio: Reflecting on the Past to Move Forward

As I entered my final year of training and saw dozens of colleagues go through a professional development plateau, I wanted to be proactive in approaching my transition to a faculty role. That’s where my Educator’s Portfolio (EP) (compared to a traditional curriculum vitae (CV) in an Academic Medicine Last Page I coauthored) came into play. Having used my CV as the starting point for my early EP draft, I initially perceived the EP to be documentation of my past successes in education. However, the EP challenged me to seriously reflect on achievements in a more critical way, in how these could be interwoven to make a compelling narrative and give me a clearer path forward.

Many find the Educational Philosophy section of the EP one of the most difficult to write. I imagine this may be in part because so often in medicine we are christened as teachers the day we complete clinical training—despite the lack of teacher training. However, being forced to put my approach to fostering learning into words helped me discover both how I could better serve my learners and enhance my own development far more than nearly any other exercises I could have imagined.

Telling the stories of past teaching and learning enabled my mindful reflection, giving me clarity of purpose that can be challenging to find at the start of an academic career. This clarity nurtured more concrete goals than I likely would have been able to articulate on my own. In part, early faculty can be set back by the inability to set goals for themselves as so much of training has inherent goals (i.e., graduate from medical school, complete residency, etc.). The clarity of mind that EP formulation provides can remind us that aspiring towards your own goals needs to be a lifelong process and not halt after training.

When drafting my EP, I imagined it would be a reaffirming experience to revisit my own successes, but as I wrote, I realized that it was not the wins that taught me the most. Instead, the times I was challenged in my teaching and learning were far better instructors, and my biggest failures highlighted the distance I had traveled far more effectively.

Unlike the CV, where the goal is to construct a seemingly flawless timeline of successes, the EP allowed me to realize just how fulfilling growth is—despite occasional failure—and in turn, it has motivated me to pursue growth well into my early career. The EP helped me to stave off the career plateau I have observed so frequently. Revisiting my EP regularly has kept me focused on growth well beyond the steep learning curve clinical training presented. In doing so, it has empowered me to pursue the satisfaction inherent in the ongoing growth we educators first became enamored with when we started our journey in academic medicine.

By: Matthew J. Stull, MD

M.J. Stull is residency director, University Hospitals-Cleveland Medical Center Emergency Medicine program, and assistant professor, Departments of Emergency Medicine and Anesthesiology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Further Reading

Stull MJ, Foster KW, Dredla B, Gruppen L, Santen S. The education portfolio [published online ahead of print July 14, 2020]. Acad Med. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003596