Be back soon: How to take a sabbatical from your veterinary practice

Be back soon: How to take a sabbatical from your veterinary practice

If a three-day weekend or short vacation isn't easing the stress of practice life, you may need more. Here's how one veterinarian found professional renewal through a two-month sabbatical.
Apr 01, 2011

There's usually at least one time in your life when you realize that a few days off isn't cutting it anymore. The emotional, intellectual, and physical challenges of practice become too much. The standard vacation fails to recharge the batteries. And recharging is a crucial aspect of staying healthy and maintaining enthusiasm for the practice of veterinary medicine. There is a solution. For some, the extended break or sabbatical may be just what the doctor ordered.

I know considering a lengthy break may be scary. You've got questions: How will a long break affect my role in the workplace? How much money will my practice and I lose? How long can I really take off? What will I do during a sabbatical? The answers vary, but I promise they're there. Here's my sabbatical story. Does it inspire you to give one a try?

Face the truth

For me, the idea of taking some serious time off from work started in spring 2010. Every year from March to May, I volunteer my time refinishing donated furniture as part of a fundraising project for my children's high school. I join 10 other parents to strip and sand, and the conversation inevitably turns to work. I must have been grumbling a bit too much about how tired I was of running a veterinary hospital, practicing medicine, and keeping employees and clients happy. Certainly, the economy hadn't helped my attitude.

That's when BJ, a nurse practitioner and the coordinator of our furniture refinishing group, spoke up: "You're burned out." The idea alarmed me, so I quickly retorted, "I am not burned out." I was still in control of my workload, wasn't I?

I'd never thought of myself as being prone to burnout, but I had to admit that my practice life wasn't very satisfying at the time. It was becoming more of a struggle to find new business, control expenses, and stay on budget—all with the hope that hospital numbers would match the year before. I'd practiced 30 years, 26 of which I'd spent opening and developing my practice into a well-respected five-veterinarian hospital. Were the breaks I'd taken over the years too short? Many times those vacations hadn't really been vacations at all. I'd added a few days away to a continuing education or management meeting and thought about work much of the time. I'd often kept up with work e-mail and caught up on journal reading while I was out of town. Just when I would start to relax, my time off would be over and I was back to work. Still, I wasn't ready to admit that this was an issue I needed to address.

Several nights later I was back with the furniture refinishing group and again we worked and talked about our jobs—and I complained. BJ repeated her proclamation: "You're burned out." This time my defensiveness gave way to thoughtfulness. Maybe there was something to that. Maybe I needed a real break. A real long break. But as a practice owner, how could I pull that off? I decided to figure it out.