New year, new personal development plan

Cat Edney explains how dental therapists can build a portfolio

This month, Cat Edney discusses the benefits of updating your personal development plan for 2024 and her tips for getting started.

What better way to start the year than by setting some new goals? And what better way to do that than by updating your personal development plan?

Creating a personal development plan (PDP) as a dental therapist is essential for maintaining and enhancing your skills, knowledge, and overall professional standing. The General Dental Council (GDC) requirement to develop and maintain a personal development plan was introduced alongside the enhanced CPD scheme in 2018, and there has been much confusion and stress following its inception.

What’s the point?

The GDC maintains that the requirement for continuing professional development should be underpinned by reflective learning – a sentiment echoed by many education providers.

The point of a PDP is to look at your personal working situation, the challenges and opportunities you have, and then allow these reflections to drive your choices when undertaking further learning.

It makes your learning personal to you, stops the inevitable repetition trap that many could fall into, and gives dental professionals the opportunity to grow in a direction that interests them and is relevant to their working life.

How do you get started?

1. Ensure you are compliant

  • Make use of the GDC’s PDP template: The GDC website offers a free template to help you structure your plan. It includes sections for your field of practice, learning needs, development outcomes, planned activities, and timeframes. What I also like is that the GDC has a number of example PDPs for you to read to gain more understanding of the type of detail and information required. There are also a number of CPD providers who offer a PDP template service which can be helpful for keeping your PDP populated and up to date if you like to use online providers for some of your CPD
  • Consider the GDC standards for the dental team: Familiarise yourself with the GDC’s Standards for the Dental Team and Development Outcomes for Continuing Professional Development.  These documents will help you identify areas of your practice that might benefit from further development. It may seem strange to go back and read these documents a number of times, but ensuring you align with and understand what is required can help you to identify gaps in your learning. It also helps to understand what CPD you should ensure you do on a regular basis and to what regularity – such as medical emergency training, safeguarding and cross infection control.

2. Self-reflection and goal setting

  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses: Consider your clinical skills, knowledge base, communication, and interpersonal abilities, but also consider the practice that you work in – do you have a mainly geriatric patient base? Or maybe you work in special care. Identify areas where you excel and areas where you’d like to improve, and areas where your practice situation will dictate the type of CPD you need to undertake
  • Set SMART goals: Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, instead of ‘improve communication skills’, aim for ‘complete a communication skills workshop for dental professionals by June 2024’.

3. Identify learning opportunities

  • Explore CPD resources: Check out social media for recommendations and association websites for CPD webinars, courses, and conferences relevant to dental therapy. You could also consider online learning platforms: Several online platforms offer flexible and affordable CPD courses on various dental topics that need not be face to face or group learning focused
  • Seek mentorship or shadowing opportunities: Reach out to experienced dental therapists or other colleagues for guidance and mentorship. Consider asking your colleagues about shadowing them to gain practical experience in specific areas and also to help you identify areas that you would like to develop
  • Don’t limit yourself to purely clinical development: Aim for a blend of activities that enhance your professional skills and broaden your personal perspectives.  Consider goals related to leadership, communication, research, or even public speaking. Your interests can inspire engaging and motivating goals.

4. Monitor and review your plan using reflection

Reflection is a powerful tool for professionals to enhance and improve their careers through personal development. The Gibbs Reflective Cycle can be a helpful guide to reflection and the GDC are keen to see that an element of reflection is undertaken following every CPD activity.

The Gibbs Reflective Cycle follows this pathway:

  1. Description: Start by recalling a specific experience, whether it was a successful procedure, a challenging interaction with a patient, or some CPD you have already undertaken. Be as detailed as possible, noting what happened in this event
  2. Feelings: Reflect on your emotional response to the experience. Were you confident, anxious, frustrated, or satisfied? Were there times you felt that you didn’t have all of the answers or felt that you needed more guidance?
  3. Evaluation: Analyse the positive and negative aspects of the experience. What went well? What could have been done differently? Consider your actions, decisions, and the outcome for the patient. If you are reflecting on CPD, consider if the training covered all aspects that you needed or did it uncover subject areas that you were unaware of and would like to understand better?
  4. Analysis: Dig deeper into the ‘why’ behind the experience. What factors contributed to the outcome? Was it your knowledge, skills, communication, or external circumstances? This is where you identify areas for learning and improvement
  5. Conclusion: Based on your analysis, draw conclusions about what you learned from the experience. What new knowledge or skills do you need to acquire? What changes can you implement in your practice to achieve better outcomes? What further training would better support you in future?
  6. Action plan: Finally, formulate an action plan to put your learnings into practice. This could involve seeking further training, refining your communication techniques, or adopting new procedures. It is often the case that CPD providers can point you in the right direction of further courses, resources and learning around their subject. It is worth discussing with colleagues and your mentors and finding out what they have completed on their PDP that they think could also benefit you.

Goals for 2024

Your PDP is a document personal to you. Although many clinicians will have similar subjects on their PDP, it is important to see it as a helpful guide and reminder of your personal professional goals.

Having a well-structured PDP and following it can help to circumvent monotony and stagnation in your career. I recommend setting yourself goals for 2024 and using the opportunity to refresh and update your PDP.

Personally, I am manifesting a dental therapy-led future for this year, and my PDP reflects that with further training in dental education thanks to Smile Dental Academy and a deeper understanding of digital communication thanks to training from Align Technology.

What does your PDP look like?

Catch up with Cat’s previous columns:

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