Many organizations are moving towards an annual mandatory Personal Development Plan (PDP), also referred to as an Individual Development Plan, as a way of not only identifying avenues of interest for employees, but as a succession planning tool. No matter the agenda for the organization’s necessity for this document, nurses, and especially nurse leaders, should be using this tool to identify and track both career and personal aspirations. Thoughtful and intentional time spent on your PDP can make the difference between a career that happens to you and a career that happens for you.

A typical personal development plan asks the participant to identify numerous career and personal goals to achieve over a set time period. Many organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, also require that the goals be aligned to the strategic initiatives of the company such as patient care, safety, or financial acumen. It is also not unusual for establishments to require the employee to record a set number of goals in the PDP document. If there is no requirement from the organization, nurses should choose at least three goals for their PDP tool; one short-term professional, one long-term professional, and one personal.

All goals should be written in the  S.M.A.R.T. format: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. For example, using this format, a goal for completing a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree would read, “Complete MSN at Emory University by June 2020.” The relevancy need not be described in the goal as most PDP tools will ask the writer to describe how the goal will relate to or affect the organization. These sections are included in many PDP tools:

  • Goal/learning/development to achieve
  • Action required to achieve the goal
  • Relevance to the organization
  • Evidence of completion
  • Target date of completion

Nurses are expected to engage in professional development not only as a means to stay current in nursing practice, but as a commitment to nursing as a profession. The PDP is an excellent tool to capture and record these developmental goals and can be used as an atlas to guide your career. Many people underachieve in their career aspirations by simply failing to plan their path. A well-crafted PDP provides the blueprint for how to build your ideal career, clarifies resources needed to meet your goals, and enlists the support of your leaders.

The professional development plan is not a one-and-done task to be completed each year. A strong PDP should be a living document that is updated at least every quarter to keep you accountable to your desired career trajectory. Ways in which a PDP is useful include:

  • Clarity – The document should be able to keep you accountable to what you have achieved so far and where you want to take your career.
  • Motivation – By updating and streamlining your PDP several times a year you will be able to answer the “why am I doing this?” question in order to stay focused and aligned to your goals.
  • Action – By setting written goals in the PDP for both short and long-term accomplishments, you can move backwards from the goal to create monthly, weekly, and daily actionable items that will move you towards your end game.
  • Performance – Keeping your PDP current will also allow you to track your performance in any given focus area, which is another good reason to have multiple goals of varying timelines. This also allows you to “toot your own horn” when the time comes for the annual self-evaluation.

Nurses with intentions to move into a leadership role or another specialty area should have this conversation with their manager, unit leader, and mentor. There are many ways in which the manager can assist the aspiring nurse, such as selecting them for committees that provide exposure to other departments and other managers, providing direct coaching on communication styles, and/or sponsoring the nurse for introductory leadership roles within the organization. By setting intentional goals in the PDP tool, nurses can ask managers and leaders for support in meeting these professional targets. To put it in more simplified terms, leaders cannot help you if they are unaware of your intentions.

By sharing your professional goals with your leader, you are also assisting the organization with succession planning as the need for replacing retired RNs will be at a critical state by the year 2022. Whatever your professional goal is as it relates to the company should be of great interest to them as they plan for the mass exodus of the baby boomers over the next decade, given that all areas of nursing will need to be covered. From leadership roles in specialty areas such as intensive care, labor and delivery, emergency services, recovery, cath lab, GI, or neonatal intensive care to advanced practice nursing roles including NPs and clinical nurse leaders, your institute can plan accordingly by knowing where you intend to take your career.

Personal goals are also important to include in your PDP. This not only helps you stay accountable and provides all the benefits listed above, but it also allows your direct leader and administration to see you as a whole person and not just as the career employee. Are you planning to run a marathon? Do you have a goal to serve on an overseas charity project utilizing your nursing skills? Starting a blog or podcast about your nursing specialty? If it is important to you, it should be important to your leader to support. You never know when opportunities or networking can arise from allowing people a glimpse into your personal aspirations.

The personal development plan is a dynamic tool that is created to provide a roadmap for your career and personal goals. Thoughtful, intentional, and frequent time spent on the creation and maintenance of this document should be viewed as an opportunity to take purposeful control over your future.

Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC

Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, is a board certified executive nurse leader with nearly 30 years experience in informatics, acute care, and ambulatory settings.

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