How to Take a Break From Medicine

Stephanie Cajigal


February 16, 2017

In This Article


Three years ago, ob/gyn Melissa Wolf, MD, decided that she had had it. After going from medical school and residency straight to practicing medicine, she needed a break. While she says she always perceived herself to be a vibrant, compassionate person, she saw herself morphing into someone who was always overwhelmed and short-tempered.

"A lot of people talk about burnout; they say it's the EMRs, it's the charting, it's the paperwork, the regulations, the restrictions, the insurance companies," she says. "I had the realization that it's not all of these outside restrictions causing the problem; it's that I'm not taking the time to care for my own well-being."

After sending what she says in retrospect was a poorly worded, exasperated email to her partners, she ended up getting the time off that she needed. She discovered that her employment contract allowed her to take an unpaid leave that permitted her to return to work, but only after her partners and employer agreed that she could be reinstated.

Dr Wolf says the risk was worth it. She spent 6 months resting, exercising, learning massage therapy, and improving her Spanish while living with a family in Costa Rica.

"I still have all of the same restrictions as I did before, but now they don't seem like that big of a deal," she says.

Taking time off from work might seem like an unattainable luxury, but we recently spoke with three physicians who managed to get mini-breaks, either by taking advantage of a company sabbatical, carefully planning a job change, or using unpaid leave.

Here's exactly how they did it.


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