Understanding the importance of a professional development plan 

Employees are often expected to show personal commitment to their continuous professional development (CPD), actively seeking out information, training and events that will keep their skills and  knowledge  up to date.  Fiona  Ellwood  provides  guidance  on creating  a professional  development plan (PDP)

Compulsory CPD was introduced by the General Dental Council (GDC) on 1 August 2008 for all dental care professionals. CPD encourages  members  of  the  dental team to enhance their professional skills as  individuals and as a team (GDC,  2008).

To be proficient in meeting the guidelines outlined by the GDC and demonstrate a systematic approach to learning, many professional groups  recommend the use of a robust ‘professional development plan’.

Keeping your knowledge and skills up to date  can be a challenge because of  the changing  nature of dentistry. It is not  only  clinical techniques that are changing, but  guidelines  and  regulations  too. It is these aspects of dentistry that seem to change most often and yet are the most difficult to keep track of.

An example of this has been the implementation of HTM-01-05 over the years. While Scotland had a time frame to meet best practice (2012), dental practices in England are merely required to produce  plans  showing  how  they will meet best practice at some point in the future. In addition, HTM 01-05 in England initially applies only to those who hold NHS contracts. What becomes obvious is that not everything applies to everyone at the same  time.Understandably, this can often lead to confusion  as many of the changes can be specific to particular parts of the country and may apply in a variety of ways to different members of the team. A prime example is the recent implementation of HTM 01-05 essential quality requirements in England, which came into force  on  1  January  2011  (Department  of Health  (DH),  2009- since updated 2013).  This  has  been  addressed  in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but with different timelines, equivalents and variations (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2007; The Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme, 2007; Welsh Assembly Government, 2010).

Identifying and addressing any skill gaps is a key factor in this climate of change. It  is vital that we,    as a profession, remain current in  our  knowledge and proficient  in  our  daily  work.  We  are  obliged to work to the highest standards, and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients, the general public and the dental team. This notion is at the centre of  the standards and guidance of the General Dental Council  (GDC, 2005).

Keeping  current and relevant

So how can you be sure that the information you have is not only current, but also relevant to you and your place of work?

Take an interest in those making changes within your working environment and understand why changes are being made. Perhaps changes have been implemented as a result of an incident or a complaint, or as a requirement of local health authorities/ commissioning sector and/or the regulatory body. Changes are often seen as a negative reaction, but changes can also lead to opportunities.

Understanding the flow of information

How do dental practices receive external  updates  and how is this information acted upon?

Practices receive updates  from  external  sources in  various  ways.  Those  who  are  instrumental  in

cascading information are cited below, although the list is by no means exhaustive:

■GDC guidance and correspondence, either via the website or directly to GDC registrants

■Faculty of General Dental Practitioners (FGDP  UK) provide information through research and a range of courses and  awards

■Local health authorities often distribute information to either working groups or directly    to the principal of the practice

■Training providers discuss the most up-to-date information and guidelines with students,  who  then take this back to their workplace

■Independent advisors and companies can be contacted for advice and, in some cases, offer in-house  training

■Postgraduate deaneries disseminate information in numerous ways, offering continual professional development lectures, workshops and more localized training and support for the dental team

■Professional associations, such as the Society of British  Dental Nurses (S.B.D.N.), the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) and the British Dental Association (BDA) to name but a few, work hard on behalf of their members to provide valid and current  information  through  meetings,  journals  or  regular emails

■Local dental committees are statutory committees who provide advice to local dentists either singly or as  a network. They provide current information to support and inform the dental team

■Dental   network   meetings   draw    a    number of stakeholders together to discuss local  and  often regional issues, and the outcomes are then cascaded to the dental team to act upon

■Journals and magazines are often the hub of  current information and new  innovations. Articles are provided to support your CPD needs and numerous courses are advertised to enhance both your knowledge and clinical skills. Many journals and magazines are provided as part of memberships to groups, while others are available through  subscription

■Dental forums and websites are available in abundance  too.

Making improvements

How can this new information be employed to improve your knowledge and  skills?

Any new  information  or  development  should be discussed with team members at regular staff meetings, or sooner if necessary.

The successful implementation of any new  policy  is  dependent on all team members being involved in careful planning. This enables the team to gain  a  real sense of ownership and a vision of the required outcomes.

There is often a  need  to  update internal policies and implement  new  strategies  which,  if not addressed, will lead to a gap in the team’s knowledge or skill base. Changes of practice, as enforced by new guidelines or  regulations,  are often viewed negatively. However, for the interested team member, these changes can also lead to opportunities  for  professional development.


Identifying skill gaps

How can the implementation of a professional development plan (PDP) help to identify skill gaps and  plan  future actions?

A PDP is a tool to help you make the most of   your role in the dental team and ensure you keep up to date with changes. Carefully following all of the stages of a PDP will ultimately ensure you make the most of the time and money you invest in personal development. You can use a PDP to elicit your skill gaps and educational needs (Figure 1). The stages of the PDP are as follows:

■Identify your skill gaps and learning needs needs

■Complete an action plan; Set specific,  measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related targets, and include learning outcomes in relation to these

■Plan and undertake activities to achieve the learning outcomes

■Reflect upon  the  learning experience

■Record  your  personal development.

The PDP is an excellent tool for  supporting  career pathways and will come into its own for those interested in the scope of professional practice.

The contents of a  PDP

There are many variations of PDPs available. Choose one that is fit for purpose and works  for  you. Plan your learning activities on an  annual  basis, a notion supported by Rughani et al (2003) who suggests that ‘yearly plans should not be used in isolation, but as part of a process’ which, in the case of your 5-year CPD cycle requirement, fits very well. It is important to note at this point that you should remain flexible in your approach towards  both personal and professional development, as external influences can often change your learning priorities.encourages you to think about the strengths you possess. These can be personal qualities, qualifications and any transferable skills. It is also important that you understand your allowable weaknesses. Having given considerations to these elements, you should then consider what opportunities you can seek to achieve your identified learning need and any threats or potential threats to achieving your learning need.

PDP plan

A PDP (Figure 3) is an effective instrument which not only prompts you in your thoughts, by posing meaningful questions, but allows you to record your intentions. It encourages you to give a form of commitment to your intentions by asking you what it is you want/need to know, what you will do to meet your needs and challenges you to think of who could support you or what other resources you may need.

Finally you are encouraged to identify and record the form of success required to achieve your goal, with a commitment to time. The planning document is as it suggests—a plan/working document, which is flexible and open to change. When completing this document, your goals should be SMART—specific, measurable, achievable and time  related.

Reflective log

A reflective log (Figure 4) allows you to reflect on your experience and make sense of your actions. You are encouraged to be professionally self-critical and strive to learn more as a result of your reflective practice. The reflective log is fundamental in helping you move forwards with intent,  towards  your  next goal.


Personal development plans are an  important  tool for self-development and professional advancement. They can demonstrate how an employee is committed to their CPD and changing their professional skills.  A great self-awareness is required to both identify and address any skills gaps by setting short- and long-term SMART targets. However, they can also show how an individual considers and sees  their  own working environment and whether they can understand the changes taking  place.

A key component will be the search for new information and how that is then used to develop an individual’s own skills and knowledge base. PDPs, while a written document, illustrate an intellectual approach   to   development   and   the   reflection on learning experiences is an important feature if they are to become a dynamic action plan. A well thought out PDP can be the foundation of a successful and fulfilling career.


Department of Health (2009/13) Decontamination Health Technical Memorandum 01-05: Decontamination in Primary care dental practices. Available at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/ groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_112542.pdf (accessed 4 February 2011)

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (2007) Funding to improve the delivery of general dental services – 2007/08 through the quality improvement scheme. Available  at: http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/2007_11_13_qis_letter.pdf (accessed 4 February  2011)

General Dental Council (2005) Standards for Dental Professionals.      Available      at:      http://www.gdc-uk. o rg / N R / rd o n l y re s / F F D 6 1 DA 5 – A 0 9 E – 4 B 3 8 – 8 F F B – BA 342 E 9 F 0 AF 4 /16687 /147158 _ Standards_ Profs 2 . pdf

(accessed 4 February  2011)

General Dental Council (2008) Continual professional development (CPD) for dental  care  professionals.  Available at: http://www.gdc-uk.org/NR/rdonlyres/73A92DE8- 5E97-4D23-9804-9637C90A8143/0/CPDforDCPs2010.pdf

(accessed 4 February  2011)

Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (2007) Cleaning of Dental Instruments: Dental Clinical Guidance. Available at: http://www.sdcep.org.uk/index.aspx?o=2333 (accessed 15 February  2011)

Rughani A, Franklin C, Dixon S (2003) Personal Development Plans for Dentists. Radcliffe Medical Press Ltd, Oxon

Welsh Assembly Government (2010) Health Technical Memorandum 01-05: Decontamination in primary care dental practices (Welsh version). Available at: http://wales.gov.uk/ topics/health/ocmo/professionals/dental/publication/cdo- letters/decontamination1/?lang=en (accessed 4 February 2011)

*The original article was featured in Dental Nursing Journal March 2011 Vol 7 No 3.

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