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Welcome to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

Professional Development Phase (PDP)

The aim of the PDP is to help newly qualified veterinary graduates make the transition from life as a veterinary student to working in clinical practice as a professional veterinary surgeon.

Newly and VN colleague

It provides a structure whereby new graduates, with the support of their employer and new colleagues, can continue to develop their professional and clinical skills, reflect on their progress and plan their future professional development.

The following Q&A help explain the PDP. You can also watch our short film about the PDP.

For more information, please click on the relevant link below:

What is the Professional Development Phase?

The PDP is a self-assessment system that aims to instil a conscious and conscientious approach to professional learning. It provides a structure for new and recent graduates including overseas graduates (and for others returning to practice after a break), to reflect on their progress in developing their confidence and competence across a number of clinical areas, measured against the general RCVS Professional Development Phase (PDP) Competences.

The PDP provides a logical link between undergraduate and postgraduate development. The veterinary degree equips graduates with the essential Day One Competences needed for safe practice immediately on graduation, but these are only a starting point. Professional competence needs to be further developed in a structured manner during the first year or so in clinical practice*, until a recently qualified vet can perform confidently as a fully-effective professional in the work place. The PDP is the first step in the recent graduate’s continuing professional development (CPD).

To complete the PDP, new and recent graduates must keep a brief, accurate and honest record of their clinical cases against a list of clinical skills and procedures, and must reflect on how they are progressing in meeting the PDP Competences. They should use the PDP component of the Professional Development Record to record their progress in achieving the PDP Competences. The CPD component of the Professional Development Record can also be used alongside PDP to record participation in other CPD activities, such as attendance on courses.

* For the purpose of PDP, ‘clinical practice’ means offering clinical services direct to the public or to other veterinary surgeons. For reference, see definition in the Code of Conduct at paragraph 3.2.

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Who needs to undertake the PDP?

All newly qualified graduates and those with less than one year’s clinical experience are required to complete the PDP, regardless of where they qualified in the UK or overseas. Anyone who is returning to work after a career-break is also encouraged to use the system until they feel they have adequately refreshed their skills.

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How do I sign up for PDP?

The Professional Development Record (PDR) is a lifelong learning record, made up of the Student Experience Log (SEL), Professional Development Phase (PDP) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) components.

If you have been using the SEL at university, you will need to email with your details. Once your PDP account is activated you can use the same log in details for the PDR (PDP and CPD) as the SEL.

If you have not been using the SEL at university, to register for the PDP component, you will first need to register for the PDR. If you follow this link, click on the tab ‘register for PDR’, enter the required details then follow the onscreen instructions.

Once this is done, you will need to apply to be activated. Please do this by sending an e-mail to stating:

  • your full name,
  • RCVS reference number,
  • where and when you graduated,
  • an address for correspondence about your PDP,
  • the name and address of your workplace/practice,
  • the name and email address of the person who will be looking after your PDP.

Once you have been accepted for PDP, you will be allocated to a Postgraduate Dean and your PDP account will be activated by the RCVS. You will receive an email from the system confirming this.

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Status of the PDP

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct requires new and recent graduates to comply with RCVS PDP and CPD requirements. All practising veterinary surgeons are required to continue their professional development and maintain their competence in the area in which they are working. They must keep records of their development and provide these to the RCVS when required. We consider the PDP to be the most appropriate form of continuing professional development for the initial period of clinical practice.

The Code also requires all veterinary surgeons to ensure that clinical governance forms part of their professional activities.

In order to undertake the PDP effectively, the graduate must engage in a process of reflection, analysis and improvement in their professional practice. This is echoed in the guidance on clinical governance that accompanies the Code of Professional Conduct. This goes on to state that:

“Clinical governance may include:

keeping up to date with continuing professional development (CPD) and new developments relevant to the area of work;

reflecting upon performance, preferably in the form of a learning diary, and making appropriate changes to practice;

reflecting upon any unexpected critical events and learning from the outcome and making appropriate changes to practice;

critically analysing the evidence base for procedures used and making appropriate changes to practice;

reflecting upon communication with other members of the work team and making appropriate changes to practice;

reflecting upon communication with clients and making appropriate changes to practice; and,

assessing professional competence in consultation with more experienced or better qualified colleagues and limiting your practice appropriately.”

All new graduate members of the RCVS and those with less than one year’s experience who are working in clinical practice in the UK should therefore take part in and complete their PDP. Those who are not working in clinical practice in the UK (see definition in footnote on page 3), but who are still on the register as UK practising members (eg those undertaking full-time research), are advised to follow a similar approach where appropriate, and to keep records of their professional development instead in the CPD component of the PDR. UK graduates who are working in clinical practice outside the UK may undertake the PDP if they wish, and if their employer is supportive.

Undertaking the PDP does not affect membership status. Graduates undertaking their PDP are legally qualified to practise as veterinary surgeons as they are full members of RCVS. It is, however, an acknowledgement of their relative inexperience and their need for support from more senior colleagues.

Anyone who has graduated since 2007 must complete their PDP if they want to enrol at a later stage on the RCVS Certificate and some other postgraduate certificate programmes. Having undertaken sufficient appropriate CPD has always been a requirement before entering for RCVS examinations, and completing the PDP helps to confirm that a Certificate candidate has had a broad grounding in clinical practice before they embark on a further qualification. 

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Overseas graduates and the PDP

Overseas graduates may be required to complete the PDP depending on how much experience they have in clinical practice before they register with the RCVS.

  • A newly-qualified graduate from an overseas university will need to complete the PDP in exactly the same way as a UK graduate.
  • Those with less than one year’s clinical experience are also required to undertake and complete the PDP.
  • Overseas graduates who register with the RCVS with between one and three year’s clinical experience will be asked to review their experience against the RCVS PDP Competences list and confirm that they have achieved these competences. If they are unable to confirm this, then they will be advised to undertake the PDP in order to ensure that any gaps in their experience are filled.

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The Professional Development Record and PDP

The PDP is run through a password-protected web-based recording system, the Professional Development Record (PDR), in which graduates keep a tally of their cases and notes under various clinical headings relating to either small animal, equine or farm animal practice (or a combination of the three). They must keep brief notes on their experience and on their general performance under each skill area, and may write up longer case reports and link these to the list of skills and procedures as evidence of their experience.

They are asked to rate their confidence against a number of headings, based on a four-point scale, ranging from ‘not confident’ to ‘totally confident’. When they have logged experience against each area and have rated themselves as confident overall, they can apply to complete their PDP. An application for ‘completion’ must be filled in by the graduate and countersigned by a more senior veterinary colleague who is familiar with their work. The RCVS appointed Postgraduate Dean will check the graduate’s PDP records online to check that there is sufficient evidence of experience across the clinical areas to warrant sign-off and completion. Those who have completed the PDP are issued with a certificate of completion by the RCVS.

Graduates can also keep a log of any additional CPD activities they undertake, and their general development plans, under the CPD component of the PDR.

It is the responsibility of new graduates to register with the RCVS to use the PDR for recording their PDP. They are given instructions on how to do this when they graduate and first register as members of the RCVS.

Guidance on CPD and instructions for registering to use the CPD component can be found on the RCVS website at 

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Other people's access to the PDP recording system

Information on who has access to PDP records is included under ‘Terms and Conditions of use of the Professional Development Record’. It is up to the graduate to decide whether they want to give their employer access to their online record. There is no compulsion to do so, as some may feel inhibited from recording their personal notes and reflections in their PDP record if they think their employer has unrestricted access. However, they can email a link to any page of their PDP or CPD record to anyone else of their choosing. This email link provides third-party access to a non-editable ‘snap shot’ page of the record, so could be useful when preparing for an appraisal meeting or other performance review. 

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The Professional Development Phase (PDP) Competences

The PDP is based around a set of general PDP Competences that a veterinary surgeon should normally have acquired after about a year in practice. These are supplemented by the list of clinical skills and procedures covering small animal, equine, and farm animal practice, which the RCVS developed in consultation with the profession, and against which the graduate records their day-to-day experience in clinical practice.

The PDP Competences cover the same general areas as the Day One Competences, which set the minimum standard for graduation, but with the expectation that at the end of their PDP “a graduate who has completed the PDP will be able to perform a range of common clinical procedures, or manage them successfully without supervision”. This is the standard that the graduate is asked to apply when making a judgement about their competence. They must consider not only their clinical skills, but also their general professional skills and attributes, which are set out in the general PDP Competences. 

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The employer's role in the PDP

Graduates or members returning to work after a career break must be supported and assisted by senior colleagues until they are confident of their own ability to provide a full professional service. The RCVS strongly recommends that employers support their continued development through an appropriate appraisal system, to enable them to complete the PDP.

The PDP is more effective if the new or recent graduate can discuss their performance and development with a senior colleague or more experienced peer who will act as their mentor. The mentor should be familiar with their work, and should be the graduate’s first point of contact if they experience a problem and need to seek advice about their work. It will help if the employer allows the graduate some time each week to update their PDP records and case notes. Keeping a tally of cases should not take long if it is done regularly. Writing up case reports may take a little longer, but encourages more effective reflection on performance. It is also valuable preparation for those who will go on to study for a postgraduate certificate. Keeping reflective notes on cases for the PDP provides the evidence that the graduate is making clinical governance part of their professional activities, as required by the Code of Professional Conduct. Case notes and reports could also be used as part of clinical meetings within the practice as part of clinical governance.

Opportunities to take part in performance appraisal will vary from practice to practice and, in many cases, may be informal. Practices accredited under the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme need to ensure that the CPD records of their staff are up to date and this should include the PDP. The PDP can form a central part of appraisal meetings with a more recently qualified employee and will thus serve as evidence that they are undertaking their CPD. If PDP records are used to discuss the outcome of clinical cases and to monitor the new graduate’s progress, this may also help to demonstrate that the practice is monitoring its performance and taking part in clinical governance.

If the practice does not have a formal appraisal system in place, the employer should still make some time available on a regular basis to discuss how the graduate is progressing, so they can have an informed third party’s view of their progress. This need not take long, but it would help to arrange this in advance, so the graduate knows what to expect and can be prepared with any questions and concerns they might want to raise. 

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Who signs off the PDP

The PDP is based on the concept of self-assessment, and seeks to encourage graduates to have a realistic view of their professional competence. The graduate can apply for PDP completion when they have marked themselves as confident across all the PDP areas, have checked their performance against the general RCVS PDP Competences, and their record includes evidence of a broad range of experience in the species area in which they are working (either small animal, farm animal, equine practice or any combination of the three). They must then print out and sign the declaration which can be downloaded from their PDP record. Their employer or other senior MRCVS colleague will also need to countersign the form to confirm that the graduate has taken part in the process, and that they have discussed their PDP entries with them.

Employers are not asked to formally examine or assess the graduate’s PDP competence for the purposes of PDP (although, of course they will want to make a judgement about a graduate’s competence on a regular basis in order to decide the level of responsibility which they are prepared to allow them to have in the practice).

The RCVS-appointed Postgraduate Dean is available online to provide guidance to each graduate about completing their records. When the graduate claims they have achieved the PDP competences, the RCVS Postgraduate Dean will review the case records and reflective notes online, before confirming that they have completed their PDP. Once confirmed by the Postgraduate Dean, the RCVS will send a completion certificate to the graduate.

After they have completed the PDP and received their confirmation certificate from the RCVS, the graduate will not be able to add to or edit their PDP records, although they will be able to view them online if they wish. If they decide to move into a different area of practice later on, they may wish to come back to the PDP system and continue completing their records in a different species area. If they want to reactivate their PDP record, they should contact the RCVS at, explaining the background to their request. 

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Is completing the PDP just a matter of ticking boxes?

The PDP is not simply a matter of filling in case numbers, it is much more than this. To get the most out of the PDP, the graduate should review their progress continually, making a conscious effort to fine-tune their skills, reflect and learn from experience. The PDP system is there to encourage them to think about what they are doing so they can build on their successes and learn from their mistakes.

Employers can help graduates by encouraging them to keep their records up to date. Reference to their skills log can be used to structure any appraisal discussion, and can provide an idea of the balance of the experience they are getting. (The graduate can share a non-editable page of any part of their PDP and CPD record with a third party by sending them a link by email.) If they are short on experience in some areas, employers could look at switching rotas to provide exposure to a different range of cases.

Employers may also want to consider letting them see practice elsewhere for a short period if this would help to broaden the range of cases they see. This could be a valuable adjunct to their CPD. If graduates are having difficulty with some procedures, employers should try to be supportive and provide opportunities for more practice in carrying these out. One approach might be for them to have additional supervision until they are confident in these procedures. The list of  PDP Competences provides a guide to areas where graduates may need further training, perhaps by attending some external courses, or by further reading. General professional competences such as communication skills, or practice and business management, are also important and should not be overlooked. 

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How long should PDP take? 

The average time taken to complete PDP is 18 months. Some graduates may complete in a shorter time, some longer. It depends on their caseload. It will probably take longer than a year for someone who wants to complete their PDP in genuinely mixed practice, as they will need to gain broad experience across all three areas, rather than in just one or two. However, it is quite acceptable to complete the PDP in the context of just one main species area, eg small animal practice.

In July 2015 a time requirement of three years was introduced for completion of the PDP and we expect graduates in clinical practice to complete within this time-frame. The three year time period begins when the graduate enters their first clinical position. If a graduate finds that they cannot complete the PDP within the 3 year time requirement, they should contact the Education Officer at the RCVS or their Postgraduate Dean to explain their reasons and discuss their options.

The PDP needn’t be undertaken just in one practice or post; if the graduate changes jobs, they can continue their PDP in their second or subsequent posts. If a graduate is undertaking locum work, they can use this experience towards their PDP. However, the RCVS does not recommend that a new graduate undertakes unsupported locum work. A new graduate should not normally be left in sole charge unless they have easy and quick access to support from a more senior colleague. 

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RCVS requirements for CPD are 105 hours over a rolling three-year period with an average of 35 hours per year. We view undertaking and completing the PDP as a graduate’s first year of CPD and it is therefore equivalent to 35 hours of CPD activity. 

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Internships and the PDP

The question is often asked about how interns working in hospital clinics or in specialist referral practices can undertake the PDP. To complete the PDP, graduates will need involvement with first opinion cases, and will also need to have primary responsibility for the clinical decision, which is one of the main competences that need to be developed during the PDP. Interns may be able to complete some of the PDP Competences, but they have to accept that they may need to go into general practice for a period of time to complete the rest of their experience. Institutions and specialist practices employing interns should make it clear that interns may not be able to complete their PDP there because of limited exposure to a varied workload, or because they may not have primary responsibility for their cases. 

Universities and other institutions may need to review their internships, and should be encouraged to distinguish in adverts between ‘PDP-conforming internships’ (ie those that would provide the intern with the range of experience and level of responsibility needed to complete PDP) and ‘PDP non-conforming internships’. This would help to provide greater transparency for new graduates.

Similarly, PhD and other research students will probably not be able to complete their PDP until they go into clinical practice at a later date. However, they may be able to record some skills if they are undertaking some part-time clinical work. 

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How graduates can complete their PDP records more effectively 

In addition to recording case numbers, it is also essential that graduates make good use of the free-text notes section under the various clinical skills headings. Making such notes is all part of the learning process and, over time, will help graduates, their employers and the RCVS evaluate their progression. They should be encouraged to make notes based on their personal reflections, for example, on how they felt they coped with a particular case or procedure, and what they might need to do to improve their performance in a particular area. 

Notes need only be brief. For example, “problems doing IVs in dogs using the cephalic vein; probably need to make sure vein is suitably raised and blood aspirates easily before injecting”. Then perhaps later in the notes: “Much better at doing IVs, fewer haematomas”. Another example would be “feel competent with positioning, collimating, taking and processing radiographs. Would like to become more competent at interpreting radiographs, often unsure about clinical significance of findings”.  

Once graduates feel competent with a particular procedure, they can indicate this in the notes section, and not record any more case numbers for that particular procedure. There is no need to keep counting each time they take a blood sample! 

An alternative approach is to enter more detailed reports of cases that may cover many different skills and procedures. After entering a case report, the graduate then links it to the skills list, ticking off in turn which skills or procedures have been covered by the case. The graduate can adopt either of these approaches within the PDP system – they can enter case numbers and add notes, or add a case report and link it to the appropriate sections of the skills list. 

It is possible that a procedure they are undertaking may not ‘fit’ with the PDP template. In such cases, the graduate should use the category that offers the closest fit and add a suitable note to explain the position. 

Many skill areas are prefaced with the phrase “clinical assessment and management of”. Some of these may sound fairly advanced, but graduates are not expected at this stage to be dealing with complicated cases completely on their own, especially if they are beyond their current competence. However, they may be dealing with cases that fit under these headings where they are making the initial clinical assessment, seeking help from a colleague with a diagnosis and treatment plan or even referring the case to a specialist. If the graduate handles the ongoing management and oversight of the case, then it can be included in their record. The graduate should remember to add notes or a case report to show what their involvement has been. 

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The role of the PDP Postgraduate Dean

The RCVS will allocate each graduate to a Postgraduate Dean when they register to use the PDP system. The Postgraduate Dean will monitor their progress online from time to time, and will be the point of contact for assistance with their PDP. The Postgraduate Dean will also review and sign off the record, once the graduate submits the PDP declaration form. The Postgraduate Dean is not there to advise on personal problems or employment matters, although, if such issues are raised, may refer the graduate on to other sources of support. 

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What standard is a new graduate expected to meet by the end of their PDP?

The main indication that the graduate has completed the PDP is whether they are able to perform a range of common clinical procedures, or manage them successfully without supervision. The common clinical procedures are those listed in the online PDP recording system.

The Postgraduate Dean will look for a broad range of experience across the majority of skill areas, as well as evidence through the notes and or case reports, that the graduate has assessed their performance against the general PDP Competences. This is not black and white and there is no mathematical formula to determine the ‘correct’ number of cases. Ideally, all skills and procedures will have been covered for one or other of the species areas, although this may vary from individual to individual. 

Sometimes, knowledge and experience is transferable from one species area to another, so there may be some cases entered across two or three species areas, even though the graduate is aiming to complete PDP in the context of one species area only. If in doubt, the graduate can email their Postgraduate Dean through the online PDR and ask for guidance. The Postgraduate Dean will review their records and advise on any areas that look ‘light’ compared to the average.

When the graduate believes that they have gained sufficient experience in their area of practice to meet the PDP Competences, they are invited to submit a signed declaration to this effect to the RCVS. A senior colleague or other mentor in the practice is asked to countersign the graduate’s declaration to confirm that there has been a discussion about their performance, and that they have seen the record of procedures as supporting evidence. The colleague or mentor in practice is not asked to assess the graduate’s competence when countersigning the declaration. (In signing their PDP declaration, the graduate should be reminded of the hazards of false certification.) 

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The benefits of the PDP

The PDP will be most successful where there is active collaboration between the new or recent graduate and senior practice colleagues. For the graduate, participation in the PDP demonstrates that they are taking their continued professional development seriously, and it will help them to identify their training needs more effectively.

Online access to an experienced Postgraduate Dean is another source of advice and support. For a new graduate working in clinical practice, undertaking the PDP is, in effect, the first year of their CPD, and, if undertaken conscientiously with support from their employer, will usually meet their RCVS CPD obligations for this period. PDP graduates also receive a substantial discount on RCVS Library membership and services, providing them with access to a wide range of information resources, including online access to journals.

For employers, the PDP system provides a ready-made structure for staff appraisal, and could be a useful adjunct to CVs when recruiting new staff in the future. There is also some evidence to show that new graduates tend to stay longer in jobs where employers are supportive of their development. Through promoting PDP in their practice, employers will be promoting good employment practice and therefore be in a better position to attract good applicants to any vacant posts. They will also be able to show that they take the CPD of their staff seriously, as required by the Practice Standards Scheme.  

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Who to contact at the RCVS for more information

RCVS Education Department

T 020 7202 0778 or 020 7202 0791


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