Taking retirement breaks

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.

Just a man and his dog in… Arkansas

Retirement breaks

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.

…in Texas

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.

…at the Grand Canyon
Switch jobs

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?

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I am a Dad and Doctor trying to find financial freedom by owning my dollars and debts. Helping dads with their finances so they can focus on the family.

12 thoughts on “Taking retirement breaks

  • April 30, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I just started following your blog! Do you always travel with your dog? Great photos.

    • April 30, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      I travel with my dog when I can. We used to do a lot of car road trips. Unfortunately (or fortunately) with the addition of our son (currently 2 years old) we are limited in how far we can drive (or so my wife tells me 🙂 ). Still, my goal is to get an RV and travel as a pack (wife, kid(s) and dog(s)). She does bring so much happiness to our lives and has been a part of our lives for 9 years.

  • April 29, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    It’s a difficult thing to pull off in America. Vacations seem like a sin sometimes. Even when you own your own businesss… you realize quickly that if you can’t leave for a month without it falling apart,,, it owns you. Probably a good idea from the start to figure out how to run your business without having to be there every day.

    • April 29, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Completely agree and I think that is one of the hopes of people who blog. To be able to make money writing from anywhere in the world. So far it has not worked for me (I think I am still negative $300, though Amazon says I have made $0.46!), but I can see the attraction. The US has a strange relationship with work-life balance. I think it stems from its roots and the initial work ethic of the pilgrims.

  • April 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I might take a multi-month break if I ever sell my business. But after that I’ll probably just start another business because work is just too much fun.

    • April 29, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      I think this is what happens to most successful business people. They start a business, run it successfully and then sell it. Then after a few months, they start getting new ideas and start the process all over again. They guys who started the Nest company (thermostats, smoke alarms, etc.) and retired from Apple and was traveling with his family when he came up with the idea.

  • April 29, 2017 at 10:40 am

    I never thought of it this way. I recently took only a week off to help potty train my son and it was all I needed to regenerate my enthusiasm to retire as soon as possible.

    • April 29, 2017 at 9:18 pm

      A week off is quite nice, but a year off is even better. That was great you could take the time for potty training and yes, the breaks definitely reenergize the retirement desires!

  • April 29, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I agree that between jobs is the most likely option to take a sabbatical for attending physicians. Also, the transition from residency to attending would be an opportunity to take some extended time off. For example, start your job on September instead of July.

    • April 29, 2017 at 7:03 am

      The transition from residency to attending would be a great time to take a break, if you can afford it!

  • April 27, 2017 at 10:52 am

    For a “grown-up,” that is a full fledged attending physician, in between jobs might be the best time to take some time off. No special arrangements need to be made, no sabbatical granted. If you don’t give adequate notice or are in a hard-to-recruit area, your absence might affect your colleagues, but probably not any more than a sabbatical.

    My wife and I spent about 10 days in Ecuador and the Galapagos islands in between jobs. When othes on the trip asked what I did for a living, I told them I was unemployed. Got some funny looks.


    • April 27, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      Very true. It becomes much harder and the burden on colleagues is tough. Particularly with an ever present in-basket. I imagine hospitalists, radiologists, and ER docs can get away with more travel then the rest of us. When I am gone I still check my in-box once a day.


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