Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer

Guidance on writing a Personal Development Plan

Guidance on writing a Personal Development Plan

Reflect and consider the year ahead

Developing a Personal Development Plan (PDP) is a dynamic process.  Many doctors construct their PDP during the preparation for their annual appraisal. However, learning needs can be added to and removed from a plan at any time of year.

You should try to maintain a balance of different types of learning needs. 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  • an area of potential weakness in which you have some evidence that you are becoming out-of-date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, it is helpful to consider the following 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 this learning 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?

Remember, a good PDP should always be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound).

Identifying Learning Needs

As preparation for appraisal, you will have:

  • reflected about the job you do, and perhaps how you would like your practice to develop;
  • reflected upon the impact of your learning last year, and how this may be taken forward;
  • reviewed the GMC Domains in Good Medical Practice in detail, and may have identified areas for change or development as a result.

There are many ways learning can be identified but it is usually through reflection on past learning and achievements and personal self-reflection on your day-to-day work.

If you feel uncomfortable about how you manage, have managed, or would manage a situation - then there is probably a learning need to be explored!

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

Method Example
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; or a complaint
Learning Matrix (consider a list of all the areas of practice in your field, and decide which of these you would most benefit from refreshing) I feel least comfortable with ... and will ... to learn more.
Study of consultation skills I need to develop my skills in...
Self-assessment tests Many tools are provide by Royal Colleges
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...
Problem cases I have a patient with... which I know little about
Practice/clinic needs My practice/department wishes to offer a new service/clinic...
Feedback from colleagues Feedback from a referral / missed diagnosis
New information SIGN guidelines have highlighted that we need to change...
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 example, if a primary care doctor feels uncertain about how to manage an anaemic patient they could consider "I need to know the first line management of a patient who presents to me with anaemia", which clarifies what they need 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. This will help your plan to 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 specific about exactly what you need to learn in order to be able to make your change. These specifics 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.  Individual doctors' learning styles vary - some prefer to attend courses, 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. More than one method will often 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 and make sure you set aside allocated time to achieve your learning.

Demonstration of Learning

When writing your plan consider how you will know that you have achieved your objective, and how you can demonstrate a subsequent change in behaviour, if applicable. This may include 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).

Other considerations

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

This depends on how long you expect fulfilling the needs to take.

For GPs, the RCGP recommends that you should undertake a minimum of 50 credits per year.  Typically GPs on average tend to undertake 3 or 4 significant learning projects per annum.

In secondary care, in general it is expected 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... but 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 Appraisal Form's PDP section 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.

On SOAR, you can mark the status of a PDP as "Progressing".  Until the item is marked as "Completed" or "Not continuing", it will remain on your PDP for you to update at future appraisals.

NB:  Similar function exists on SOAR CPD log.

This page was last updated on: 07/03/2022