Year off work as a doctor

I’ve written about taking time away from medicine as a student, but what about when you’re in the workforce?

It can be slightly more complex once you’re a junior doc in training. But, not impossible (and many people have done it).

My number one tip is timing. Before, during and after medical school is the easiest time for a gap year. After completing internship and residency (in Australia the first two years) is another great time to do it.

Here are some tips for having a year away as a doc

  • Time it well – try to complete internship at least to get general registration before a year away. Completing residency will be an added plus
  • Get your references lined up before departing – let them know your plans
  • If you want to work casually you can sign up to a locum agency or ask your current work for any casual positions
  • Keep note of important dates for the next clinical year (if you’re planning to go back)
  • Research your chosen specialty and ask around
  • Know registration requirements for your state/country (in Aus there are new requirements as of January 2023 relating to continued professional development)
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Specialty training and gap years

I understand taking time off isn’t feasible for everyone. If you’re planning to be a plastic surgeon, this blog post probably isn’t for you. For me, I see it as invaluable life experience where you can learn about a wealth of other things. Unfortunately, not every specialty in medicine looks at time off as a good thing.

No specialty discriminates against people who take time off before, during or after medical school. This is a great time to plan a sabbatical, especially if you have your heart set on a more competitive specialty.

Specialties that are sabbatical friendly:

  • Basic Physician Training (getting onto BPT is straight forward, after this it becomes tricky and competitive)
  • Emergency Medicine
  • General Practice
  • Medical Administration
  • Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Paediatrics
  • Public Health
  • Psychiatry
  • Rehabilitation Medicine

The inbetween

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Pathology
  • Intensive Care Medicine
  • Sport and Exercise Medicine

Specialties that are less friendly to gap years:

These are more difficult because of the competitive nature of these specialties. Maybe if you pair the year away with research, conferences and/or postgraduate studies you can make the year off be seen favourably.

  • Anaesthesia
  • Dermatology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Radiology
  • Surgery

Depends on pathway

  • Addiction Medicine
  • Pain Medicine
  • Sexual Health Medicine
Photo by S’well on Unsplash

Top tips to make a year off work

  • Change your mind set – hopping off the conveyor belt can make you rethink your surroundings and choices
  • Let go – maybe you won’t be a consultant by the age of 30, is that such a bad thing?
  • Don’t ask other people for approval – this can likely lead to self-doubt and disappointment
  • WORK (and save) – working towards a goal is super motivating. Saving for your time off is worth it in the long run
  • Defer, decline, resign – the key part of the sabbatical is organising the year off. Whether that be deferring university, declining your job offer, or resigning
  • Trust the process – it can be scary and overwhelming to leave your classmates or colleagues to do something different. Trust that things will work out
  • Focus on the present – worrying about the future isn’t going to change much. Focusing on the here and now will help with mindfulness and combat anxiety
  • Research your specialty – certain specialties are more friendly towards sabbaticals. Do some reading first. Maybe add a small medical related side project to show professional development
  • Know registration requirements – you have three years to do internship after graduating university. Australia will implement new requirements as of January 2023. Keep up your CPD to avoid issues on returning.

Leave a Reply