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Taking A Break From Work

Preventing Burnout, Taking A Break From Work


It’s easy to get burnt out in our careers. We have a long period of education followed immediately by high intensity work, compounded by the financial stress of student loans and other debt.

Vacation can help but since it is so heavily regulated by employers and dispensed in small chunks separated far apart in time it really doesn’t serve the purpose intended here.

In my scenario we have a doc that’s been going strong for 4-5 years and has already tried taking vacations without much success. She is still feeling a bit unmotivated by work, minimally challenged and overwhelmed easily. So, based on that I see the following options available to this her:

  • A sabbatical
  • An extended sick leave
  • Leave of absence



A sabbatical is so rarely used that it’s often forgotten about. Every group is different and some don’t offer it. Generally, after a few years of work at a company you are entitled to taking a set amount of time off usually in relation to how long you have been with the company. My medical group allows 1 month for every year that I have worked here, up to 6 months. I need to have worked here for at least 5 years. Some medical groups will pay a full salary for time away. In my case, the group pays 50% of my base salary and gives me full benefits still. Sabbaticals aren’t vacations, and your company will want to make sure that whatever you are doing is not only going to benefit you but also them. There is generally an application process, the sabbatical work has to be approved, and you cannot do work that generates income during that time.


Process for getting sabbatical approved.


Extended Sick Leave

Extended sick leave sometimes needs to be taken for serious personal illness or when taking care of a family member. You may ask yourself how sick leave is restorative. The answer of course is that by the time you are getting close to burning out your health must certainly be affected. When it comes to family, taking care of loved ones can be quite restorative. The FMLA that we are all too familiar with allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The laws are a bit different if you are in the military, usually you get close to 26 weeks for this. The ‘Friday Monday Leave Act’ as it has come to be known among those who know how to game the system is quite easy to use for conditions that meet the requirements. Your state may have its own type of health leave act. As an example, Oregon has the OFLA.


Leave Of Absence

Leave of absence sounds straight forward, you basically just take a certain amount of time off. However, this is a tricky one. From my research companies are willing to sign a contract with you giving you unpaid time away from work for a few months and even agree to place you back into the same position as long as an agreement is reached. Another way of looking at this is resigning on good terms. I know of coworkers who did this successfully, one did it for a month and the other for 3 months. Generally you will not have benefits during this time away though at least you can ensure that you will have a job when you return if you play your cards right. The key here is to appeal to the compassionate side of your bosses and let them know you need this time away to recuperate and that you will do everything in your power before you leave and when you return to make it easy on the organization.


Getting Paid…By An STD

The sabbatical pays you to be away, of course it depends on your medical group as to how much and whether your benefits remain (they usually do). Sick leave taken through FMLA covers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave but with a guarantee (generally) that you will get your old position back. If longer time is needed and you are covered with STD (Sexu… I mean, Short Term Disability) then you can use that after the 12 weeks are up. During these 12 weeks you may use some of your vacation and sick leave if your medical group allows you to do so. STD usually pays anywhere from 20%-75% of your pay during the covered disability period. The leave of absence is probably the most anemic of all, no pay and no benefits. However, once you return to work your time towards vesting in your pension (if you have one) immediately resumes. You may be able to apply for unemployment benefits. I won’t get into this since these benefits are changing quite quickly through the court system. However, it’s easier to qualify for than you think. And you aren’t ‘stealing’, remember you pay for unemployment through your taxes.


Before You Make Your Decision

Make a pro-con list. Weigh all your options. Whichever option you decide to go with be sure to create a bit of a buffer for yourself. However painful it might be, picking up some extra shifts or at least avoiding making any major expenses right before your time away will help buffer your transition. For the most part it seems that you are better off letting your boss know sooner rather than later. You would be amazed how willing your job might be to try to keep you even if you are away for a short period of time. They spent a lot of money on-boarding you, they likely don’t want to lose their investment. The average large medical group spends north of $75,000 per full-time staff physician that’s brought on.



I wrote this post on 8/21/2015. Since then I have learned that I am not yet eligible for a sabbatical since I moved from one medical group to another even though it’s the same company. That’s understandable since the money would come out locally.

I decided to pursue a different path…

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