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Physician sabbatical programs and ideas

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This is the second of a two-part article about sabbaticals for medical professionals. This post provides specific types of sabbatical opportunities and programs. If you’re new to the idea of physician sabbaticals, start with Sabbatical for doctors: the how, what, and why.

These are a smattering of ideas to get your creative juices flowing as you think about planning a sabbatical. There are loads of other options. A sabbatical, while it has a professional focus, is a very personal thing.

Formal programs for a physician sabbatical

Share your expertise

Fulbright Specialist Program

Fulbright programs aren’t just for recent college grads, and they don’t necessarily need to take up a whole year or two of your life. The Fulbright Specialist Program is specifically designed for experienced professionals. It allows you to use to your skills and knowledge in public health, biology, or global health to help an international organization in need of that skill and knowledge.

To get started, you need to apply and be accepted for the program roster. You’ll remain on the roster over the next three years. Once your skill set is matched with the needs of a university, government organization, or other institute, you’ll have the opportunity to go there for two to six weeks to participate.

This is an awesome sabbatical option if you want something short and intense.

Rejuvenate and refresh your career

Mercy by the Sea Sabbatical Program

Here’s an idea for physicians wanting a sabbatical to address burnout. Mercy by the Sea offers a six-week program that combines guidance with self-directed reflection. The retreat center that hosts this program is located in a beautiful part of New England. I won’t lie, it’s pricey at $4900. But, for some physicians, it’s exactly what’s needed to find career fulfillment and purpose.

Plenty of other retreat and conference centers offer similar services and programs that can accomplish the same objectives.

Provide care to populations in need

Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships is a charity that uses hospital ships to deliver healthcare services in various areas of need around the world. Volunteers live on-board for up to three months, participating in a combination of work and recreation. For doctors, this can be as a hospital physician caring for the local people wherever the ship docks, as a crew physician, or as an administrator. It’s recommended that you apply 3-6 months in advance of when you’d like to volunteer.

Similar opportunities for medical volunteer work as a sabbatical exist with numerous other charitable organizations. However, Mercy Ships may be of particular interest to physicians planning a sabbatical because it offers positions that are longer than a typical medical missions trip but shorter than the requirements of Doctors without Borders.

Hone and deepen your skill set

Clinical Research Management Sabbatical 

NIH’s Sabbatical in Clinical Research Management is a 4- to 12-week experience that lends itself to physicians with research interest. You’ll receive education in research and regulatory infrastructure, research management, legal matters, and funding and outreach issues as they relate to clinical research. In addition, participants work to develop a research proposal and can receive the expertise of NIH staff in doing so. Applications are reviewed three times per year, so you have some flexibility with when to take your sabbatical.

Various other federal government fellowships, internships, and training programs are open to experienced professionals and can be a great way to spend a sabbatical. For physicians, looking at opportunities within the Department of Health and Human Services is a good place to start.

Teach and learn at another university

For physicians with academic appointments, visiting professor opportunities are the conventional way to take a sabbatical.

Self-directed and informal sabbatical ideas

Tackle a project in a fresh setting

Remote Year

Remote Year provides the infrastructure to professionals who have the capacity to work remotely, and want to do so without the time and effort of planning all the logistics. You’ll spend either four months or a year living briefly in a handful of different countries with a diverse group of other professionals. Travel, lodging, work spaces, and local culture exploration are all included – you just need to show up with your laptop and some work to do.

Programs like Remote Year are becoming popular as more professionals have the luxury of working remotely for their employer or for themselves.

Take a locums assignment

Locums jobs are often used by physicians who are in between permanent jobs or who have chosen to work locum jobs for the long-term. But those aren’t the only two circumstances that can lend themselves to locums work. Taking a single locums assignment as a deliberate break from your regular work is a fitting sabbatical option for many clinicians.

The Locums Life has a great article about using a locum tenens assignment as a sabbatical.

Choose from countless other options

There’s no right or wrong way to do a sabbatical. It doesn’t have to fit any mold. So if the options above don’t jive with you, do some brainstorming. Here are a few other ideas to consider:

  • Choose a place to live abroad and dedicate your time to learning the local language
  • Write a book or develop a curriculum
  • Take a temporary job in a new field
  • Conduct a research project
  • Give health lectures at a resort while you revitalize

Have you taken or are planning a sabbatical? Comment below!

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