Personal Development Planning for nurses



The first question we need to ask is: what is Personal Development Planning? Many people mistake a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for an appraisal or annual review of their job role, and therefore do not think about completing one, as they have already carried out this annual process. However, appraisal is about your role within the organisation you are working in, and can focus more on your day-to-day working rather than your personal goals, aspirations, and expectations.

We therefore need to address certain key questions:

What is a PDP?

How does it affect me?

When does it need to be completed?

How do I compile a PDP?

What are the benefits to me of completing a PDP?


What is a PDP?

A PDP is a tool that helps you to be proactive and to take responsibility for the way you think about your career. It helps you achieve your goals, both personally and professionally. It makes you think about where you want to go, plan how to get there, and then start moving.

pink-pin-20x20A PDP is a structured process that you can follow throughout your career. The stages involved are:

First, understanding yourself so that you can set meaningful goals.

Second, identifying gaps in your skills and experience. This enables you to define your goals. 

Finally, creating an action plan that will enable you to reach your goals by identifying the steps you need to take in order to achieve them. This will move you towards personal and career satisfaction.



How does it affect me?

Over the last 20 years, employment laws and policies have been revised and changed, particularly for those who work directly with patients or vulnerable people. Some of these changes have been initiated due to malpractice and crimes involving patient deaths, for example:

Beverly Allitt (Bristol, 1993) – a nurse who was convicted of killing babies in her care by delivering lethal doses of insulin; and

Harold Shipman (Lancashire, 2000) – a doctor who was convicted of killing elderly people in his care by delivering lethal doses of morphine.

To help prevent such occurrences in the future, employment legislation now covers how we should be performing, how we keep up-to-date with current practices, and how to ensure that we are safe employees within our working environments. 

Health regulators and government quangos have the task of enforcing registration, compliance with standards, CPD (Continuing Professional Development), and openness and accountability in our day-to-day working environments. This should ultimately lead to a more competent, skilled, and knowledgeable workforce.

A PDP gives you the opportunity to look at what is important to you, covering your personal desires and what you would like to accomplish whilst also meeting legal and regulatory requirements.


When does it need to be completed?

Ideally a good PDP should be completed for a five-year period, and should be reviewed and revised on an annual basis during that time - although many people use them as live documents, adding to and building on them throughout the year. 

For example, if you carry out CPD, and are reading an article, you may want to write up a short reflective account, answering the following questions:

Did you feel it was a good piece of work?

Did it prompt you to want to change anything? 

Has it enhanced your knowledge?

Will you change anything because of it?

The reflective learning cycle, shown here, can be a useful aid to identifying aspects of how you learn from your experiences - both good and bad.


When carrying out new techniques and processes (or updating existing ones), try to use the reflective learning cycle. Ask yourself these questions:

What do I think went well or was good?

What did not go as well? Did it meet my expectations?

Why did it not go well (if appropriate)? 

How could I have done it differently? What would have made it better?

How will this affect me in future? Will I change my practices, or not?

Write down your statements and see if this structured approach has helped you to self-reflect in a positive or negative way. Has it helped your personal development? Or have you decided that it does not impact on you at all?




How do I complete a PDP?

It is advisable to start by carrying out a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.

Strengths – things that you or your organisation are good at.  

Weaknesses – things that you or your organisation are not good at. 

Opportunities – potential directions that may be worth exploring in the future.

Threats – potential problems facing you or your organisation. 

Many people are now familiar with this process, which identifies areas in which you do well and which you should capitalise on, areas that you struggle with and need to improve on, and outside factors that affect the success or failure of your endeavours. It will also help you look at your working role, home life, workplace and colleagues. 



You will probably find that you have more than one topic in each of the areas. This is good and gives you additional points to take into consideration, with more flexibility giving you more options.

Looking at the statements that you place in the boxes may help you to decide on additional training, for example in smoking cessation. This will give you opportunities to use your spare diary capacity, utilise your communication skills, and help you in working to time schedules. Instead of going into competition with another company, you will have a prime speciality to offer.

These decisions are seldom made in isolation and can form part of your appraisal process or development plans with your manager.

Those of you who are familiar with SWOT and feel it does not always help you to achieve your full potential may want to add a further dimension - the PEST (Political, Economic, Socio-cultural and Technological) analysis. This considers the bigger picture of the external factors that can either build or hinder your career. Using it can have a huge effect on your career opportunities. The topics in more detail are:

Political factors – Here you consider how the government and its policies can affect your career. What regulations are in place (and what changes are taking place) that will have an impact on you, your organisation or your profession?

Economic factors – These are the monetary aspects that can affect what you do. Will your wage go up? Will you need to pay for training?  Will you need additional equipment? Can others do your job less expensively? 

Socio-cultural factors – What are the demographic trends that can affect your career/training pathway? Are there any changes in qualifications taking place? Do you have a family to take into consideration? Is the practice manager prepared to offer support and backing?

Technological factors - What technological factors can affect your decisions? Technology is changing rapidly; will you need to learn new skills? Will a technological development render the career decision you are making obsolete? What opportunities and threats does this pose to you fulfilling your objectives? 


By undertaking your SWOT analysis, you will have identified a number of opportunities. Now, having also having completed your PEST analysis, you may find that some opportunities seem very possible and exciting, whilst others are not worth pursuing. 

It is now time to determine which pathways you wish to follow, both in your career and in your personal development. Remember to narrow your options down - if you take on too many goals you will become bogged down and probably finish none!

You need to ask yourself these questions:

Why is this important to me?

Do  I need to upgrade my qualifications (eg Oral Health Promotion)?

Do I need to experience particular procedures or departments (eg implants)?

Do I need to master a different skill set (eg Management)?

Can I do this where I am, or do I need to move workplace or industry? After close reflection, you may find you want to be a midwife, and would therefore need to move to a different industry.

This self-reflection and questioning will help you pull together a ‘to-do list’ or action plan with which to commence your journey.

When you have answered these questions and looked at your strengths and threats, you will be ready to write down your objectives. These must be SMART:

Specific – make sure your goal pertains to one particular outcome.

Measurable – there must be a definite end point so you know when your goal has been accomplished.

Achievable – you must be reasonably sure you will achieve your goal or you will frustrate yourself and damage your self-esteem.

Relevant – your goal must relate to what you ultimately want to achieve.

Time-bound – there has to be a time requirement, otherwise your goal can sit unaccomplished forever.


To enrol on the ILM Award in Management for the September 2014 intake at the local college.

To devise an Information Governance workshop, and deliver to staff by December 2014.




Sample Personal Development Plan Worksheet, which can be expanded on in future.

Having set your goals and identified your learning needs and priorities, you will need to complete a PDP. This will help you to identify where to get help, who you need to inform or contact, and the stages of progression. This is not set in tablets of stone and can be a flexible document that can be added to or change as circumstances require.

It is then time to carry out your planned activity and hopefully achieve your goals. Using the template above, you should measure their progress and reflect on problems/ good practice and solutions or changes that may occur. 


What are the benefits to me of completing a PDP?

Remember, a PDP is about you and where you want to be or what you want to achieve – even if it is to keep the status quo. However, even if it is the latter, make sure that you keep yourself updated on policies and procedures in line with new legislation and ways of working that will keep you a safe worker.

The PDP is also about how you want to be perceived by yourself and others, how you feel you contribute to the team, and what values are at your core.

Personal Development Planning helps you in achieving the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) requirements of the General Dental Council, the workplace requirements relating to your appraisal, and personal development goals for yourself. It also contributes to making you a safe and skilled professional who respects and protects both patients and other members of staff.

Written by Janet Goodwin BA (Hons) RDN, LCGI

Janet is an active GDC Council member and chaired the group for the new GDC Standards. She previously worked as a qualifications manager for the NEBDN and has co-written several books including Advanced Dental Nursing.