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Section 2: Documents & Certificates
Section 3: Academic Achievements
Section 4: Career Development
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Personal Developments Plans (PDPs) are a key part of your portfolio, and one of the first items on the agenda of your appraisal meeting. They are also a really useful tool in giving you control and accountability over your career development, particularly if you’re locuming or out of training. Here, we will break down common questions on PDPs and guide you through the process of writing yours. At the end, you can find an example of a full PDP.
Section 1: FAQs
What is a PDP?
A PDP is a document that sets out the career goals which you set for yourself over the next year.
It is a set of intentions and goals you set yourself, which identify areas for development and growth in your career. PDPs are personal and should be a reflection of you rather than a generic target for all doctors at your grade. Your PDP should take into account your own strengths, weaknesses, interests and opportunities.
What kinds of goals can I include in my PDP?
Your PDP can include goals for:
- experience (i.e. I want to get more experience in a surgical specialty)
- up-skilling (i.e. I want to practice 10 lumbar punctures this year)
- knowledge (i.e. I want to learn more about renal anaemia)
- broader goals (i.e. I want to feel more confident managing crash calls on night shifts), or
- non-clinical goals (i.e. I want to attend management training or a leadership course).
Whatever the goal is about, the key is to make sure that it is SMART (see below).
When will I need a PDP?
PDPs are used to evidence proactive learning and regular self-evaluation as part of your annual ARCPs (if you are in training) or appraisals (if you are out of training).
Trainees: When you start in a new role or rotation, you should create a personal development plan and discuss it with your supervisor.
Non-trainees: If you have been out of training for some time and have already had an appraisal, then you should have already agreed on a PDP in collaboration with your appraiser. If you haven’t had an appraisal before, then you will need to produce evidence of a PDP for your first appraisal.
Do I need a PDP as an F3 locum?
If you have just come out of training and do not have a supervisor (i.e. if you are locuming) no one will hold you accountable for setting yourself goals or targets or creating a PDP. You don’t ‘need’ a PDP right away, but you will need to provide one to discuss at your appraisal meeting.
In theory, you could make it all up in the week before your appraisal meeting, but we would always advocate for being proactive and making a plan for your F3 year in order to get the most out of it. If you are going to spend any time prior to F3 thinking about what you hope to achieve from your time out of training, then it is worth writing it down and calling it a PDP.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do with your F3 year, try using our F3 Workbook or watching our F3 Planning Webinar.
Where do I record my PDP?
You can record your PDP anywhere that works for you.
- If you have an ePortfolio then there may be a section for PDPs there.
- If you’ve done an appraisal before, you should have a PDP on your last MAG (see section 18).
- If you prefer to use a word document, that’s totally fine.
- Hand-wrote it on paper or in a journal? No problem.
- Maybe you put your PDP goals onto post-its on the bathroom mirror - You do you!
Any of the above is okay, so long as you have put in some time and thought into your goals, and can provide evidence of your PDP when you need to.
What do the PDP sections of the MAG look like?
The MAG form (Medical Appraisal Guide) is the document that non-training doctors in England use for their medical appraisals. In order to complete the MAG, you have to upload evidence of a PDP for the previous year, and generate a new PDP going forward.
There are two sections relevant to the PDP.
- Section 6 asks for your previous PDP for review in the appraisal meeting. It doesn’t really matter in what format you upload your PDP so long as you can provide some evidence that you made one. It can be written directly on the document, uploaded as a word document, PDF or image of a handwritten document.
- Section 18 asks for your new PDP. At the end of your appraisal, you and your appraiser will agree on a new PDP going forward. You should collaboratively agree on what is reasonable and achievable, and generate a short and concise PDP together.
Section 2: Writing a PDP
Next, we will review how to set goals and write these up in your PDP.
What should my goals cover?
The PDP cycle is a structured process that involves continuous self-evaluation, target-setting, action, and self-reflection (similar to the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle used in quality improvement). You should use these prompts to create your PDP goals.
Your PDP should cover the whole scope of your practice (clinical, learning, research, teaching, leadership and management, etc) so consider having at least one SMART goal for each aspect of your work.
How do I decide on my PDP goals?
They don’t have to be big goals! Don’t give yourself more work and stress than you can manage, but try and show that you have at least considered each part of your role, and how you can continue to improve in each area.
Here is a framework of questions to think about:
This is a self-evaluation question. It can be used to define your physical location or work environment, your emotional or mental wellbeing, your academic or intellectual achievements, and so much more.
The key to successful self-evaluation is to truly know and understand yourself. You must be able to define: ☯️ your successes and your failures ☯️ your strengths and your weaknesses ☯️ your opportunities and your challenges
By identifying and acknowledging both sides of yourself, you can begin to appreciate what has led to a sense of growth and fulfilment in the past, and what has blocked you from achieving those things previously.
This is a target-setting question. It can be used to figure out in which ways you want to or need to grow in the future.
- Which career directions excite you the most and make you feel compelled to head towards? Where do you feel obliged to go, through duty or mandate?
- Which directions spark your curiosity enough to visit with no commitment to stay long term?
- Which direction do you think you should go in order to gain perspective or learning that you do not have?
This is an action-planning question. Now that you have identified where you are and where you want to be, you need to be able to plot your route to getting there.
- Opportunities: What opportunities you have at your disposal that can act as a vehicle to getting to your destination?
- Challenges: Which hurdles may prevent you from getting to where you need to be? These can be physical (i.e. not having access to transport), financial (i.e. expensive courses), and personal (i.e. not having enough time to juggle work and personal commitments).
- Support: Which people or tools do you have access to that may help you overcome these challenges (i.e. access to a study budget, supervisor, mentor, disability allowance)?
This is a time-planning question. Now that you have decided where you are going and how you are going to get there, you should define how long it will take you to complete the journey.
- How big is the goal?
You should weigh up the size of the goal and set a realistic time frame for how long it will take to achieve it.
If you want to be a consultant, and you are currently an F2 then a realistic time frame might be 5-7 years depending on the specialty.
If you want to complete a case-based discussion with a supervisor, then perhaps days or weeks could be a realistic time frame to do that.
- Are others involved?
Time frames may be affected if you need to factor in external blockers or other people that can hold you back. If your goal is defined by someone else’s deadlines i.e. specialty applications or meetings with supervisors, then you should factor this into your estimated time to achieve your goals.
How do you write your goals?
The ‘SMART’ mnemonic is a tool used for goal setting and action planning. It stands for:
S - specific M - measurable A - attainable R - realistic T - time-based
When you are writing down your goals, you want to ensure that they meet these criteria. Most commonly, this avoids loosely-written and non-specific goals (become a better doctor), or those which are not achievable.
Here is an example of a reflection through this process, and how this would result in a SMART goal.
❓ Where am I now?
I am an F3 clinical fellow working in ITU for 6 months. I am proactive and take initiative, but I am also scared to ask for help, which is holding me back from practicing my skills. For example, I don’t know how to insert a central line.
❓ Where do I want to be?
I would like to feel valuable and competent in ITU. I must strengthen my ACCS application.
❓ How do I get there?
I must improve my ITU practical skills with practice and high-quality feedback. My presence on the ward will provide opportunities but my fear of asking for help will mean that others may not know I am looking to practice this skill. I have a clinical supervisor who might support me and could flag up my goals to the team.
❓ How long will this take me?
I only have 6 months in ITU during this fellowship before I go traveling. This ITU typically needs 3 central lines each week, so there should be plenty of opportunity for me to aim for 2 per month (12 total attempts).
Section 3: Reflecting on a previous PDP
As part of your appraisal, you will be asked for reflections on the previous year’s PDP. This is also a useful exercise to hold yourself accountable and might help you to set more achievable goals for the upcoming year.
You can ask yourself the following questions, and jot down your notes alongside last year’s PDP or in a separate document.
This is a descriptive question. Once you have completed the first 4 planning questions then it is time to take action and execute the plans you have made. You will need to give yourself some time to try and achieve the goals that you set before reviewing your progress. How much time you give yourself will depend on a number of factors:
- How long was the shortest time frame I set to achieve a goal?
- Did I make a plan to review my progress with my supervisor?
- Do I have a significant deadline?
If you had a number of small and quickly achievable goals then it is worth reviewing your PDP after your timer is up to celebrate your achievements, learn your lessons, and set new goals.
If you have a supervisor, then it is worth reviewing your PDP progress together quarterly. This is because it is easy to veer off track, get stuck, or forget about long-term goals. Being regularly accountable to another person, particularly a supervisor can help you stay on track and solve problems in a timely manner.
If you have made a PDP for your annual appraisal or ARCP, then it is worth reviewing your progress several months or weeks before the deadline to ensure that you are on track to achieve your targets before a significant deadline.
This is a self-assessment question.
At the end of the year, you can look back and measure your progress against your initial target.
- Which goals did I hit?
- Which goals did I not achieve?
- Have I ended up where I expected to?
List your achievements and the skills you gain gained while working towards your goals.
List the targets you didn’t meet. Did you miss the mark entirely, or simply fall a little short?
In the context of your PDP as a whole, think about whether or not your achievements and misses were expected or unexpected. What did you plan for, and what caught you off guard?
This is a self-reflection question. You should use this section to explore the meaning of it all, the individual elements and decisions you made on the journey as well as the process as a whole. Understanding ‘why’ something went well or not is arguably more important than the fact that it did or didn’t. By exploring ‘why,’ you can learn from your experience and adapt your practice to be more successful in the long run.
After all, a failure is only a failure when you don’t learn from it.
- What caused me to succeed?
- What caused me to fail?
When you were successful, what were the forces that made this possible? Was it down to luck, determination, diligence, support, or something else?
Did you run out of time, encounter resistance, lose focus, lack opportunity, or deliberately change your goal part-way through? What would you do differently next time if you were to set the goal again?
What happens if I don’t achieve my PDP goals?
When you write a PDP, it is generally accepted that you will not be able to achieve all of the goals that you set out for yourself. It is important to be ambitious in your goals, but also to acknowledge that sometimes failure is inevitable and can be a great source of learning and growth.
If you feel you are stuck or falling off track with your PDP goals, then think about what is standing in your what and what/who can help you move past it. Can you enlist the support of supervisors, mentors, appraisers, colleagues, or friends to help you get back on track or move past a hurdle? If not, perhaps the goal was not realistic to begin with and needs to be re-assessed.
If you set goals at your appraisal that you have not been able to meet, then do not worry. Discuss with your appraiser why you were not able to meet those goals and what you learned from your ‘failure.’
Was your goal unrealistic? Did you encounter impassable blocks? Did you have the support that you needed? Is the goal no longer important or relevant to you?
Reflecting on your PDP is built into the PDP structure and learning from failure is how you grow.
Section 4: An example PDP
You have just started your 12-month contract as an F3 Clinical Fellow in Trauma and Orthopedics. Your job is less than full-time, and you have agreed to a contract for 2 days on the ward, one day for structured or self-directed learning and teaching, and one day in theatre each week. Your supervisor has arranged your first supervision meeting in one week, and has asked you to bring along your PDP.
Key points to note
- You are working 80% (4 days per week or 32 hours if your shifts are longer than 8h/d). You need to factor this into your PDP as you make goals for your upcoming year, as what you may be able to achieve will not be as much as a full-time employee.
- There are several elements to your job role including clinical work, surgery, learning, and teaching. This is the ‘scope of work’ to which you should tailor your PDP.
- You are a clinical fellow for 12 months, so you should consider prioritising goals that you would not be able to achieve, or would have fewer opportunities to achieve outside of this role.
Your PDP goals
To set up a surgical log book by the end of the week and start recording all of the surgeries I have attended, with notes of my involvement, in the logbook.
To discuss 3 randomly-selected cases from my logbook with my supervisor or in my peer group over the course of the year.
To do 3 self-selected case-based discussions with my supervisor over the course of the year.
To successfully perform 6 Fascia Iliaca Blocks (FICBs) with supervision to improve my skill and competence as a junior doctor in a surgical specialty.
To collect and reflect on 360 feedback from at least 11 of my peers and/or from 11 of my patients to present as evidence at my appraisal in 12 months.
To maintain my professional development and involvement in CPD by attending junior doctor teaching and using my study budget to attend courses, and keeping a diary of CPD activity to show at my appraisal. To aim for 16-18 CPD points by the end of the year.
To ensure that I am up to date with my Mandatory and Statutory Training by the time of my appraisal in 12 months.
To contact the appraisal lead for the Trust and find out who my allocated appraiser is so we can set a date for my appraisal in 12 months. I want to achieve this within 3 months.
To give one formal junior doctor teaching session over the course of this year.
To discuss with my supervisor about audit and QI opportunities and theatre and join an ongoing project.
Meeting with your supervisor
When you meet with your supervisor and present your PDP, make sure that you review the feasibility of each goal and discuss how you will flag up to your supervisor when you are struggling to meet the goals.
For example, if you find that the ward is demanding extra time and focus from you and you are not getting your day in theatre each week, then you will struggle to meet your theatre-based goals. How will you flag this up? After how long?
Our advice would be to schedule your supervision sessions in advance, and in particular, at the end of your first month so you can discuss any settling-in difficulties or issues with your early PDP goals. Some jobs will offer weekly supervision and others monthly. Much of it will depend on your supervisor, and on your own persistence and initiative.
- 💭 PDPs
- Section 1: FAQs
- What is a PDP?
- What kinds of goals can I include in my PDP?
- When will I need a PDP?
- Do I need a PDP as an F3 locum?
- Where do I record my PDP?
- What do the PDP sections of the MAG look like?
- Section 2: Writing a PDP
- What should my goals cover?
- How do I decide on my PDP goals?
- How do you write your goals?
- Worked Example
- Section 3: Reflecting on a previous PDP
- What happens if I don’t achieve my PDP goals?
- Section 4: An example PDP
- Key points to note
- Your PDP goals
- Meeting with your supervisor