💭  PDPs

💭  PDPs

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.
  • Previous PDP - Section 6 of the MAG looks like this:
  • 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.
  • Current PDP - Section 18 of the MAG looks like this:

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:

❓  Where am I now?
❓  Where do I want to be?
❓  How do I get there?
❓  How long will this take me?

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.

Worked Example

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).

💡 SMART Goal I want to have successfully inserted 6 central lines (specific and measurable) by the end of my clinical fellowship in 6 months (time-based) by aiming for 2 attempts per month with supervision and feedback (realistic). My clinical supervisor has agreed to help me identify opportunities to practice this skill and supervise my attempts (attainable).

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.

❓  What action did I take?
❓  How did I do?
❓  Why did I end up here?

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Teaching and Development
💡  TOP TIP By including many of your appraisal targets in your PDP (i.e. case discussions, teaching, CPD and feedback), you have protected yourself and scheduled your time wisely to minimise the amount of extra work you have to do later on.

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.