Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leave of absence

When I was applying for a new state medical license a while back, there was a page in the application where it asked me what horrible things I had done. Have you ever had criminal charges filed against you? Have you ever been the subject of disciplinary action? Have you ever had your medical license suspended or revoked?

Being the good girl I am, I just checked NO all the way down the line.

A few weeks later, I got notified that I was in big big trouble because I should have checked YES to one of those questions: Have you ever taken a leave of absence? Oops. I did, in fact, take a maternity leave. I then had a bunch of new paperwork to fill out explaining my leave of absence, as well as a letter from my former residency program director, also explaining my leave of absence. And of course, none of the faxes would go through.

I've actually been waiting forever to take a leave of absence. A real one, not the exhausting blur that was my maternity leave. First I planned to take a year off between second and third year of med school. Then between med school and internship. Then for sure, I was going to take a year off after residency to spend time with my daughter. Well, that didn't quite work out, although I did take a month off. Two months would have been ideal, but my fellowship director was pushing me to start.

I've realized that it's actually not so easy to take time off once you become a doctor. You gain skills during training and work, and then when you take time off, you lose those skills. Especially when it comes to procedures. Even after maternity leave, I felt a bit rusty.

Also, don't tell anyone, but I kind of like to work. Makes me feel productive.

The medical boards recognize that taking time off is a big deal. You have to account for every second of your life from when you started your MD training. When I was recently getting credentialed at a new hospital, I was physically unable to submit my online application because I wasn't able to "account for" the six weeks between my med school graduation and starting internship. I guess vacation wasn't a legitimate excuse.

At this point, I don't see any extended vacations in my immediate future. I guess I'm OK with that. I mean, look how much I blog when I'm working full time... can you imagine if I were home all day? Still, it's a little depressing to think that the next time I'll have a long vacation might be when I retire.


  1. This is such an important issue. Physician well-being as well the longevity of our careers may require "time-off" and it should not be punitive. There are enough demands in medicine notwithstanding the needless restrictions in the culture from an era of another time.

    A leaves of absences in medicine should be acceptable. Plain and simple.

    Physician burnout is real and such constraints ruin people's families and lives. Who makes these rules that do real harm to diversity in the profession of medicine? I don't understand why such discriminatory policies in medicine persist.


  2. Law's very similar. Only it's not quite so bad to take a sabbatical.

  3. I've been off for 4 months and already feel like I could be a little rusty. I find myself trying to recite doses of medications I commonly prescribe in my practice so that I won't have to look everything up when I return. The truth is I can't remember some of them. Could be the mushy brain that seems to accompany having a least I hope so...not that my patients will enjoy that excuse.

    I like to work too. I thought I'd be rushing back, but to my own surprise am enjoying every minute of maternity leave so far.

  4. Thanks for this important post. It points to the crucial and under-discussed issue having to do with physician burnout and health.

    It shouldn't be "uncool" or problematic if a physician needs or chooses to take some time off. Medical staffing systems need to accommodate the real lives and responsibilities of working doctors.

  5. Fizzy, your frequent blogging is putting me to shame. I vow to post at MiM, sometime this week.

    Yes, maternity leave is an exhausting blur. What a great way to put it. I took two, during residency, and almost got docked when I went to take my boards. Didn't it count that I hadn't had vacation for three years in a row? Didn't it piss me off that co-workers even considered maternity leave a vacation?

    They say that physician-physician marriages are doomed even worse than regular divorce stats. I wish I could simply attribute these stats to the situation I am in now, but that would be a cop-out. It took a terrible personality collision. But I would be remiss to blow off the stress that I was under, becoming a mother and battling residency, as a part of the problem.

    I'm with Elaine, above. We all need to nourish our personal physical and emotional health. I'm so glad, in my job as a pathologist, that I finally have the time to take care of me (first) so I can be there for my children.

  6. Gizabeth, I wouldn't feel ashamed that you're not as huge a dork as me :)

    It does piss me off incredibly when anyone refers to maternity leave as a "vacation." Although I remember when I had my baby during residency, I thought to myself that "next time I'm going to take 6 months off for maternity leave" and now I'm thinking next time it'll probably be more like 3 months. (Although that will still be an improvement.)

  7. I think things are better here in Australia, But I am teaching during my maternity leave from clinical work. This is my second baby and I can so identify with you Fizzy, I had 3 months (after med school before internship) with my 1st, 6 months now with my second but I am teaching 0.5FTE, went back at 2 weeks so I am already thinking "next time I want proper time off" but I am sure as it approaches that time will be encroached on somehow.
    Here if you work for the government you get 14 weeks paid parental leave which is the minimum for sanity I would suggest. I chose to take it half time which was an option,
    IN private practice there is no paid option so you just have to be organised.
    It is a very important issue and for the health of our future generations as well as ourselves it needs to be addressed.
    i don't want my kids to grow up seeing me thrash myself and think thats normal. And of course I want to hang out with them and have lots of cuddles and fun times.

  8. You can only take care of others if you're well taken care of. I wish you well in everything. By the way, this group of medical research assistants might interest and help you in some ways. More power!

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