Personal Development Plan (PDP)

Developing a PDP is a dynamic process

Many doctors actually write down their personal development plan at the time of their annual appraisal. However, it is a dynamic process, and learning needs can be added to and removed from a plan at any time of year.

You should try to maintain a balance of learning relevant to different areas of your practise. For example:

  • an area of potential weakness in which you have some evidence that you are becoming out of date
  • something that you are aware of as a new topic
  • an area of personal interest and expertise that you would like to take forward

For each of your learning needs you need to consider eight questions:

  1. What would you like to change, develop or do differently in the way you practice? (This is your learning need)
  2. How did you identify your need to change or develop?
  3. How important is this need?
  4. What specifically do you need to learn in order to be able to bring about the change you wish to make? (This is your learning objective)
  5. How can you learn this?
  6. How long will it take to learn this?
  7. How will you know when you have met this need?
  8. How will you be able to demonstrate that you have met your need?

Identifying Learning Needs

As preparation for appraisal you will have thought about the job you do, and perhaps how you would like your practise to develop. You will have reflected upon what you learned last year, and how this may be taken forward. You will have studied one of the essential evidence categories in detail, and may have identified areas for change or development as a result. Many learning needs will be identified through this process, others by personal self-reflection on your day to day work.

Remember, if you feel uncomfortable about how you manage, have managed, or would manage a situation, there is undoubtedly a learning need to be explored!

The following table lists many of the possible methods for identifying learning needs.

Self-Reflection I feel uncertain that my knowledge of... is as up to date as it should be
Log (Reflective) Diary I was not quite sure that I managed that optimally
A Significant Event A prescribing error
Self-Assessment Tests Many tools are provide by Royal Colleges
Learning Matrix (This asks you to consider a list of all the areas of practice in your field, and decide which of these you would most benefit from refreshing. You then need to decide what you need to learn and how to do it) I feel least comfortable with ...
Audit An audit has highlighted that I need to review how I manage...
Referral Information A review of referrals identified the possibility that I should...
Prescribing Information A review of prescribing data identified the possibility that I should...
Study of Consultation Skills I need to develop my skills in...
Practice Need My practice wishes to offer a new service...
Feedback from Colleagues Feedback from a referral / missed diagnosis
New Information SIGN guidelines have highlighted that we need to change...
Problem Cases I have a patient with... which I know little about
PUNS / DENS (patients' unmet needs and doctors' educational needs). My patient attended to ask about... I had to say I would find out.


Having identified the area in which you need to develop, think very carefully about what you want to be able to do differently, and write down very clearly the things that you need to learn about. For instance, if a primary care doctor feels uncertain about how to manage an anaemic patient he /she could write "I need to know the first line management of a patient who presents to me with anaemia", which clarifies what he/she needs to know much more effectively than "I need to know about the investigation of anaemia".


It is important to prioritise your learning needs, and to put your most important learning needs into your development plan, with the result that your plan will be constructive, relevant and achievable.

Learning Objectives

Having decided what you want to do differently, and that you want to achieve this change within the next year, you need to be more specific about exactly what you need to learn in order to be able to make your change. These specific items are your learning objectives; they should be demonstrable and measurable. Our doctor who wants to learn about anaemia might write "I want to develop a management plan for patients presenting with anaemia".

Learning Methods

This is up to you! Doctors' learning styles vary - some prefer to attend courses, and others prefer personal learning. Think carefully about what you want to achieve and the best way to do it. Ensure that the method you choose will meet your need. In general, participating in activity sessions is the best way to learn practical skills, whereas attitudes are probably best developed in an environment where discussion and debate are facilitated, and knowledge may be gained very effectively by personal study. Often more than one method will be required to ensure an objective is achieved.


Be realistic! Some big learning objectives may take more than 12 months to achieve. If this is likely to be the case, plan for this.

Demonstration of Learning

When writing your plan consider how you will know that you have achieved your objective and demonstrate that you have achieved your objective. This may include production of a certificate of achievement, a protocol, or could involve an audit, or survey of performance. (It may be that the audit is included in your development plan for next year).

Frequently Asked Questions

How many learning needs should I include in my development plan?

This depends on how long you expect fulfilling the needs to take! In general we would expect that a doctor would spend at least the equivalent of 10 sessions on education each year.

If I don't meet some of my objectives will it matter?

If you have identified an area as a priority for learning, you should try to achieve it. In reality, priorities change. If your situation changes and another need becomes more pressing, of course you should address that.

Can I make a plan, which lasts more than 12 months?

Some large pieces of work may take more than 12 months - for instance a research project may be scheduled to run over 2, 3 or even more years. At your appraisal you should still complete the Scot 2 forms and include some information about how the big project is going. Your plan for the second year will include an item on continuing your project.

Related Documents

Learning Log sample (macro-less version) | File Size: 41.5 KB | Date Updated: 17/09/2015

An online CPD log has been added to SOAR so you can enter your CPD entries directly, rather than using this spreadsheet. However, if you wish to use the spreadsheet instead, please note the following instructions: This Excel spreadsheet is designed to help the user record their Learning Activities throughout the year. Save this spreadsheet to your computer (right-click > Save target as) and work on this as you go throughout the year. Upload the final version to SOAR when the time comes for your appraisal. Make sure you check the worksheet "Examples and Tips" for guidance. Although originally designed specifically for GPs, it can also be used by consultants (just ignore the impact scoring).

Structured Reflective Template - PERSONAL LEARNING | File Size: 89.5 KB | Date Updated: 11/03/2015

Document designed for electronic completion

This page was last updated on: 15/05/2015