My cousin visited me in sunny Cali this past weekend. This cousin of mine lives a life that many in this community can appreciate. She had a stable and successful job for many years and burnt out. She then decided to take 6 months to work on her writing and try establishing herself through various pursuits. While successful in some ways, she decided she needed a more stable position. So she found a job, but this time as a contractor. Now she travels between LA and DC, working on her own hours, and focusing on writing (her true passion).
In many ways, her and I are two sides of the same coin. We both desire freedom in our lives to pursue our passions. She has chosen to do it through pursuing different careers and different avenues for finances, lives more minimally, and is now a contract employee. I follow the more traditional path for my finances, live moderately, and have a regular job. Still she got me thinking.
She kept telling me I needed to practice retirement. By practice she meant take retirement breaks. She considers her 6 month sabbatical a retirement break. It allowed her to reset her priorities and follow a path more true to herself. She told me I should not wait to retire. I need to bend my thinking to find ways to take retirement breaks. Whether it is 1 month or 6. Find how to get time off, travel, and do the things important to me.
She was actually one of my main motivators to take a sabbatical from fellowship. This is the year I discussed last week as a guest on Physician on Fire. You can read the article here. She reminded me that while at a wedding in Toronto she had never seen me so miserable. We discussed medical training and my need to take time away to reset. Interestingly, an Australian trainee just published a NY Times article about the toll training can take on humans here.
So now to the point of this posts, what is a retirement break. A retirement break is a period of time where you leave your day job. It may be as short as a few weeks to as long as one year. Ms. Montana at Montana Money Adventures is taking a year and being quite successful at it. I will be surprised if she actually goes back to her day job. By taking the break, you hopefully will reset and also test what the waters of early retirement might feel like. Living a year in Argentina was life altering for me. It changed the direction of my career and my life.
I outlined clearly how someone in training may take time off or do some training abroad at Physician On Fire’s site so go over here to check it out. It provides some good information regarding practical ways to work abroad in medicine, but is less useful for those already in a day job, seeing patients, growing their panel, or doing their procedures.
How to take a retirement break from work
So how does one take a retirement break once in practice? Well it is a tricky situation and not one that I am sure I have an answer for.
Lump vacation time
I think the easiest path would be to lump vacation together. If your practice allows it, then consider putting 2 to 3 weeks together and traveling. During that time do not touch your message basket or work email. Arrange for your colleagues to reply to patients and check lab results (this is easier with hospitalists and ER physicians, but others can find a way to do it to).
My job gives me approximately 20 to 30 days off between vacation and education leave. Starting in 2018 I plan on lumping together at least 2 weeks of vacation a year to travel either in the US or abroad.
Start hinting at a sabbatical
My practice allows for unpaid sabbaticals. They must be approved by the hospital CEO and the department chair. The earliest I have heard of anyone taking a sabbatical was 10 years into their career. This individual was a ER physician (no message basket or patient panel) and he took 6 months. 10 years seems like a long time.
I hope that within 5 years I can take a 2 months of unpaid sabbatical. This will require two things to happen. 1) I will have to be financially secure enough to tolerate 2 months without pay while still running my household and traveling. 2) I have to get the approval of my boss and the blessing of my partners.
The second part of this is harder to coordinate. Leaving my inbox and patient panel for 2-3 months is a lot to ask from my partners, but is possible. One solution would be to check my inbox once a week for a few hours. Not ideal and not a true break, but a solution. This is why I will need to start hinting at a sabbatical at least a year before I pull the trigger. Taking call is less of an issue because I can make it up before I go or after I come back.
Not my ideal solution but I have friends that take time off (3-6 months) when they switch a job. In fact, when I moved from New Orleans to California, I took off 3 weeks. It was the first time I drove across country (with my dog, but not in a pick up truck…so close to being a country song). I saw the Grand Canyon and drove through Arizona. It was quite awesome. This is possible for anyone and just requires 1) having enough financial security to take the time off without pay and 2) finding a job!
Find a prestigious role in another country
Not truly a retirement break, because this would require you to work in your field abroad. This however is a way to live in another country and get a feel for it. This is more likely for physicians in academics, but their are many older physicians I know who have lived and worked abroad. One individual spent 3 years in Scotland before returning back to his regular job. Another lived in Saudi Arabia for 4 years making a ton of money. When he came back he took a position in a new city.
If this is your route then congrats on being fairly successful at your day job that someone in a foreign country will hire you and kudos to you for pursuing this path. This is not the path for me. I would rather take a break completely.
Boom! Those are my thoughts on how you can take retirement breaks and recharge your career. For me, it is likely going to be in the form of extended 2-3 week vacations for the next 5 years until I can work in a 2-6 month sabbatical.
What about you? Any thoughts on how to take a retirement break from practicing medicine?
Also published on Medium.