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Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE Daring Doctors



Is it Time for You to Take a Sabbatical?

Imagine this: spending a year in southern France writing that book that's been rolling around in your head; spending nine months completing a certificate program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine; traveling around the world in 80 days with your spouse and children; staying home and watching Oprah while you paint watercolor still life; volunteering with Doctors Without Borders and providing medical services in Indonesia.

Is this a fantasy that that interests you?

While taking a sabbatical may be a real proposition for those physicians in Academia, for many solo physicians, physicians in small or medium group practices, or physician leaders, taking 3, 6, 9 or 12 months "off" would seem to be a ridiculous notion. 

But be open to the magic of a sabbatical and how you can craft your own time away.

When a Sabbatical Beckons, Follow! 

My definition of sabbatical is this: taking time off to enrich your life. And it need not be a whole year, nor should it wait seven years to happen.

Here is my story of sabbatical.  I have lived in the Seattle area for 23 years, but in 2002-2003, my family (my husband and 2 kids, age 10 and 12 at the time) spent the school year in New Mexico.  New Mexico is where I was born, raised, and where my extended family lives (parents, siblings, plus about 300+ cousins, aunts, uncles etc).  After being in Seattle for 20+ years since doing my Internal Medicine residency at the University of Washington, I had only been back home for annual 1 or 2 week visits.  The summer of 2002 I had a flash of insight: I MUST spend the year here and see my parents and siblings every week. It was now or never.  

So that August we packed up just enough "stuff" in our mini-van, drove across four states, and moved into a small 3-bedroom home.  We enrolled our kids to the local public school.  My husband commuted every two weeks from Seattle.  

The enrichment was beyond words.  Little things like going to Home Depot with my Dad (he was in the hardware business), coloring my mom's hair for her because she doesn't like to have it done at the beauty shop.  And big things, like crafting a leadership workshop that has become one of my most popular offerings.  Oh, by the way, I didn't "stop working" --- I took my computer and business operations to New Mexico, and my business never skipped a beat. 

My husband and kids still remember that as our "great family adventure" and look back fondly at how it enriched us individually and as a family. 

Look at Sabbatical With New Eyes

Once you look at sabbatical as "time off to enrich your life," then you can creative in how you interpret that.  

Back in February I was feeling mentally weary, and decided it was time for a short sabbatical.  I knew I didn't need a change of venue, nor a major break in what I was doing.  Instead I decided to stop being so "in my head."  I took a 3-month break from aspiring, striving, analyzing, and being ever so vigilant about trying to figure out my life and destiny. In early June I attended a weekend spiritual retreat which was a wonderful capstone to my 3-month "sabbatical."  

I emerged refreshed, renewed and more at peace with all things in my life.  I incorporated some new rituals in my weekly routine to keep me more centered.  For example, I turn off my email from Friday evening until Sunday morning.  That may seem silly to some of you, but it's a huge feat for someone who is tethered to their technology!  

3 Tips for Taking YOUR Sabbatical 

I hope I've piqued your interest in taking a sabbatical--in whatever way it works out for you. Keep these points in mind:

1. Life is short; get a locum or one of your partners to cover for you during your absence.  The enrichment you'll feel will far outweigh any monetary shortfall you fear you'll experience.   

2. Consider the "mental break" approach.  For 6 months, stop doing something you find "obligatory" or burdensome. Hire someone to sort through you mail, and toss out the junk mailings, for example. Read only trashy novels.  As soon as they arrive, recycle your Time, Newsweek, Wallstreet Journal, New England Journal, and JAMA.

3. Find a single weekly ritual that works as a "refresh" button, or plugs you into a heart-space, spiritual mode.  Turn off your computer on Saturday or Sunday. Take an hour and listen to meditation and relaxation tapes on Friday after work. Take your sports car out for a top-down drive one evening a week.  Whatever gets you out of your head.

I would love to hear your stories of sabbatical.  Email me and I'll publish them in an upcoming Daring Doctors issue.  Our job is to inspire our members; I know many of you have stories that can inspire your colleagues.

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE is an executive coach and business consultant.  She is president of The Gaillour Group and director  of Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership.  Dr. Gaillour is a professional speaker on healthcare leadership,  cultural change and physician career development.  

She can be reached at (888) 562-7289 or francine@physicianleadership.com

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
15600 NE 8th Street, Suite B1-173
Bellevue, WA  98008
(206) 686-4205

Francine R. Gaillour, MD   2006 Ki Health, Inc.