August 2019


Taking time off
Important personally and professionally

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer

“Recharging my batteries gives me a chance to refresh, renew, and bring fresh insight
to everyday care.”
—Satish Modi, MD

Taking time off from practice might not only be good for physicians from a personal, mental health standpoint, but it could have professional benefits, such as avoiding burnout, as well. There are, however, some considerations to prepare one’s practice, staff, and patients for planned absences.
“Recharging my batteries gives me a chance to refresh, renew, and bring fresh insight to everyday care,” said ophthalmologist Satish Modi, MD. “In addition to vacations, our doctors frequently do volunteer work in other countries. Not only is this recharging, it is rewarding and fulfilling. Sometimes this is even better than a resting vacation.”
Laurence Gerlis, MD, a general practitioner who specializes in diabetes, said that it can be easy to become stale and cynical in your profession if you don’t take time off. Preparing your practice and colleagues and setting proper expectations for the time when you’re out of the office can help ensure you return recharged.
“A few years ago, my colleagues would advise me to go away and leave my smartphone at home. I think nowadays, that’s unrealistic. Most questions and inquiries now come by email rather than phone, so they can be dealt with at a time to suit the doctor,” Dr. Gerlis said, explaining that he dedicates 30 minutes to an hour each day he’s on vacation to addressing emails. “This may simply involve forwarding them to a colleague or to an administrator to deal with them.
“I prefer taking vacations now [compared] to the old days when I would return from a 2-week break to find a pile of letters, some of which may be quite urgent, to greet me,” Dr. Gerlis continued. “This was actually quite stressful, and being able to deal with matters on the move enables one to return to work in a good mood and get on with the important things, rather than catching up with a backlog.”
Dr. Modi said that patients need to be informed of who will be responsible for their care while you’re gone.
“Communication rather than surprise is key,” he said.
On the flip side, Dr. Modi continued, partners need to be educated on the status of patients.
“Our doctors are the key ingredient of the practice, so their absence is a challenge for everyone,” he said. “In order to make sure emergencies are properly triaged, other doctors in the practice have to pick up for the vacationing doctor. But with proper planning, everyone in the practice can take a deep breath and work on some of the projects that get put to the side when all doctors on staff are working.”

Taking a sabbatical

Taking off a week or two here or there is relatively common among doctors, but a sabbatical takes more preparation. For refractive surgeon Mounir Bashour, MD, taking such an extended hiatus was worth it.
Dr. Bashour said his practice hired three doctors to take his place while he was on a 3-month sabbatical in Thailand. Patients who sought his care specifically were either fit in before his trip or had to wait for his return. Upon his return, he has been having to get through a backlog of patients.
For Dr. Bashour, a 3-month sabbatical was not just to unplug from medicine but everything.
“I 100% unplugged. … I left my girlfriend behind. I left my two children behind. I unplugged from my whole life, in general, not just practice. It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Bashour said.
He had been toying with the idea of writing a couple of books for a few years, and the occasion of his 50th birthday pushed him to take a sabbatical during which he finished two several hundred-page books on natural philosophy that he said will be published.
“There is no way I could have written those books without taking that time. It was an impossibility with my lifestyle. I have a practice, I work 6 days a week, and this was the only way this could happen,” Dr. Bashour said.
Coming back from sabbatical was dramatic for Dr. Bashour.
“It was coming back into my life … seeing my girlfriend again, seeing my children again, seeing my friends again, seeing the city I had left behind. … I missed those 3 months in many ways, but it’s nice to be back; everything is kind of new now,” he said, noting that he has a “renewed appreciation for everything, but also an appreciation that I should have been taking more than 2 weeks off every year.”
Dr. Bashour recommends that everyone take a trip like this without family or friends at some point in their lives.
“I highly recommend doing something out of your comfort zone,” he said.
Dr. Bashour does not recommend taking a break to those just out of training though.
“Finish residency and just start because your skills are still nascent, and you need to build them up. I don’t recommend doing this until at least 5–10 years in practice,” he said.

About the doctors

Mounir Bashour, MD
Montreal, Canada

Laurence Gerlis, MD
Chief executive
Same Day Doctor
London, United Kingdom

Satish Modi, MD
Seeta Eye Centers
Poughkeepsie and Fishkill,
New York

Contact information


Financial interests

Bashour: None
Gerlis: None
Modi: None

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