My cousin visited me in sunny Cali this past weekend. She lives a life that many in the medical community can appreciate: a stable and successful job for many years, but burnt out. She then decided to take six 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, she 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 and live moderately with 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 six-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 one month or six, and 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. 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.
So, now to the point of this post: What is a retirement break?
A retirement break is a period when you leave your day job. It may be as short as a few weeks to as long as one year. Ms. Montana is taking a year and being quite successful at it. I will be surprised if she 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 clearly outlined 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 a physician 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.
1. Lump vacation time. I think the easiest path would be to lump vacation together. If your practice allows it, then consider putting two to three 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, too).
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 two weeks of vacation a year to travel either in the U.S. or abroad.
2. Start hinting at a sabbatical. My practice allows for unpaid sabbaticals. The hospital CEO and the department chair must approve them. The earliest I have heard of anyone taking a sabbatical was 10 years into his or her career. This individual was an ER physician (no message basket or patient panel) and he took six months. Ten years seems like a long time though.
I hope that within five years, I can take two months of unpaid sabbatical. This will require two things to happen. A. I will have to be financially secure enough to tolerate two months without pay while still running my household and traveling. B. 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 two-three 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 calls is less of an issue because I can make it up before I go or after I come back.
3. Switch jobs. Not my ideal solution, but I have friends that take time off (three to six months) when they switch a job. In fact, when I moved from New Orleans to California, I took off three weeks. It was the first time I drove across the country (with my dog, but not in a pickup truck … so close to being a country song). I saw the Grand Canyon and drove through Arizona. It was awesome. This is possible for anyone and just requires having enough financial security to take time off without pay and finding a job!
4. 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 there are many older physicians I know who have lived and worked abroad. One individual spent three years in Scotland before returning back to his regular job. Another lived in Saudi Arabia for four 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 two-to-three week vacations for the next five years until I can work on a longer sabbatical.
What about you? Any thoughts on how to take a retirement break from practicing medicine?
“Dads Dollars Debts” is a cardiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Dads Dollars Debts.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com