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My Hiatus from Medicine: 3 Eye-Opening Revelations

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take a hiatus from the demanding life of a physician, even temporarily?

The Darwinian Doctor, a urologist from Southern California, did just that.

He made a bold choice, resigning from his long-standing position, and embarked on a 5-month hiatus from medicine.

If you’re a physician struggling with burnout or interested in exploring new career paths, this story will provide valuable insights and inspiration. It answers the question of whether burnout can be vanquished.

Today I reveal the eye-opening revelations I had about burnout and growth after taking a 5-month hiatus from practicing medicine.

 

The Resignation

In mid-September 2022, I resigned from the urology job that I’d held for 6 years.

It was the only job that I’d known since I graduated residency in 2016.  After deciding against fellowship training, I went straight into practice after residency so I could finally start to support my family and parents.

I took an employed position in a large urology group in Southern California.  In many ways, it was a great job, but it also became increasingly apparent over those years that it wasn’t the perfect fit for the long term.

 

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The Job

My first mental whispers of concern came just a couple of years into my employment.  I’d achieved most of my early priorities with startling speed.  After just a couple of years, I was a skilled surgeon with a low complication rate and high patient satisfaction.  I was respected by my peers and already dabbling in various leadership roles that later transitioned into an appointment as chief of my department.

When it came to finances, I was finally able to relax.  Despite the high cost of living in SoCal and my family’s startling annual spend rate, we were able to save about 30% of my family’s substantial dual income.  As the stock market boomed, our investments started to pick up momentum.  As I saw the balances rise month after month, the tension from my childhood of financial scarcity finally started to recede.

Read more: The Darwinian Doctor’s 13 Monthly Expenditures (with real numbers)

 

Something Missing

But as I wrote about here in the early days of the blog, I wasn’t satisfied.  I felt like something was missing.  I needed new goals and new creative outlets and just wasn’t getting this from my medical career.

So I started this blog and explored first the world of personal finance, financial independence, and real estate investment.

My love affair with real estate investment is still going strong and is best documented in my quarterly “Anno Darwinii” posts.  These show the growth of the real estate portfolio that is rapidly becoming a strong source of passive income.

Read more: Anno Darwinii Archives

 

The Opportunity

Despite the positive work, I was able to do as chief of my department, the frustrations I had as an employee remained.  Despite what I saw as pretty clear cut ways to improve the day to day situation of my department, the pace of changes seemed glacial.  I found myself making the same pleas for resources every quarter, only to be told that there was no way to get to my desired outcome.  My sense of burnout that had started in year two only increased through the pandemic.  I innately knew that it was going to take a drastic change to improve the status quo.

So when my wife got the job opportunity of a lifetime in Memphis, TN, it was surprisingly easy for me to agree to the move.  Within 8 weeks, we’d both resigned our jobs and started a new life in the Mid-South.

Read more: Your Mom Is a Badass | Letters to My Sons

 

The 5-month Hiatus

When I made the move, though, I didn’t realize that I was going to experience a 5 month long hiatus from medicine!  Despite very positive early negotiations with the urology groups in town, we eventually decided it wasn’t a great fit.  It took a few months to get to this point, after which I decided to pursue locum tenens urology.

By the time I was ready to start my first traveling urology gig, about 5 months had elapsed. This was the longest stretch of time away from education or medicine since I applied to medical school!

During this 5 month hiatus from medicine, I came to 3 eye-opening revelations.

 

#1 – Burnout Can Be Cured in 2 Months

The sense of freedom and relief, after I quit my job, was immense.  I desperately needed a break to recover from my burnout, so even the financial risks we faced were secondary.  Of course, it helped that we’d prepared well for a career move like this.

But I really did need a change.  This wasn’t some temporary job stress that could be cured by a weekend getaway.  This was an insidious slow burn that had me teetering on the edge of frank burnout for years.  I often got pushed over the edge by a difficult patient or stubborn administrative issue, only to claw my way back to the status quo through necessity or force of will.

But after I quit, the speed of my recovery surprised me.  After only two months free from the stress of the day-to-day grind, I felt refreshed.  It was different from the refreshment you can get after a week off at the beach.  That relief is so temporary that it starts fading even before you get home.  That’s why the last few days of vacation are always tinged with dread.

The relief I got after two months off straight was qualitatively different – somehow more complete and longer lasting.  While everyone is different, after my hiatus from medicine, the first of three revelations is that it takes me about two months to recover from burnout.

 

#2 – I Still Want to Practice Medicine

After my burnout receded and the weeks continued to slip by, I realized something else:  I still want to practice medicine.  I missed meeting new patients in the clinic with issues that required my expertise.  I missed the social stimulation of having a team of nurses and colleagues.  And most of all, I missed the rush of the operating room.

As far as satisfying experiences go, there’s very little out there that can match surgery.  To start with a problem and solve it via a couple of hours in the OR is immensely rewarding.  And to later see the patient in the clinic, healed up and grateful, is the cherry on top.

So that’s the second of three revelations after my five-month hiatus from medicine. I still like practicing medicine! This was a great realization. It means that all the years I spent training to become a urologic surgeon weren’t in vain.  I can still give back to the world via medicine and hope it will always be a part of my life in some form or another.

 

#3 – I Crave Growth

The final revelation after my hiatus from medicine was that I crave continual evolution and growth.

During the first few months of my hiatus, I spent the majority of my time managing our move, supervising our home renovation, and working on my blog and social media.

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Although these tasks all took up plenty of time, I eventually realized that I was missing something.  I was missing the sense of accomplishment and growth I get from building our real estate empire.  Given the high relocation costs and interruption in my income, we’d decided to temporarily put a stop to new acquisitions.

But in the months surrounding my hiatus from medicine, I just didn’t feel the same sense of continual progress anymore.  As I gradually detected my discontent, I learned that I need a sense of growth to be happy.

 

Give Me Growth!

In fact, I think what I found most stifling in my previous job was that I didn’t see a reasonable path for continued growth.  I felt static in my clinical growth, with the only possible avenue for growth existing via the administrative route.  This didn’t seem appealing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I also get a sense of growth from this blog.  But either due to lack of skill, vision, or both, it’s been a fairly slow process.  Our real estate business has offered a much faster sense of growth with a more rapid return on my investment.

So now, I realize that I do want my real estate business to grow bigger.  To make this vision a reality, I hired our first team member last month to formalize the business underpinnings of our company.  Now, with our bookkeeping, bank accounts, and legal aspects falling into line, it’s time for some more exponential growth!

 

Conclusion

There’s nothing like a hiatus from medicine to give you the mental space to make some serious revelations about yourself.  In my time off, I realized three things:

  1. Burnout is curable
  2. I still want to practice medicine
  3. I need a sense of continued growth to be happy

I’m very grateful for the time off, as I think it can be very difficult to reflect on your life when your every waking minute is dominated by work or family responsibilities.

Since my hiatus, I’m back practicing medicine as a locum tenens urologist.  This allows me to bring my skills to where it’s needed the most, while still maintaining maximal freedom to work on business growth.

There’s a lot left to say about the world of locum tenens and our plans for real estate growth, so stay tuned!

 



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3 thoughts on “My Hiatus from Medicine: 3 Eye-Opening Revelations”

  1. Hi Lief!

    I really enjoyed your post and am glad you were willing to share your personal insights with us. The idea that we all need to grow to continue to be happy is very inspiring because that’s something we can all put some action behind. I think it’s also important to have some time to ourselves every day. So many people work all day and go home without ever taking a moment to themselves. This daily break in between our work life and personal life is crucial. It may not be the cure to burnout, but it can help to bring stress levels down.

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  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. I had the same revelations when I took my mini retirement last year and this year. I am doing locums only because it allows me to work 6 months out of the year and focus on my other projects and interests the remaining half of the year. I work 3 months on and 3 months off to keep my skills up and avoid burn out.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for posting this, especially being frank about feeling stifled and lacking curiosity and engagement at work.

    As an anesthesiologist, I’ve felt this way for years. Like you, I’ve found other ways to get engaged and continue to learn and grow. I thought learning through leadership would be interesting, but learning to be more efficient in a terrible broken and jacked-up system is not my idea of engagement.

    I think there are many of us who reach a plateau and stall out with growth and learning. I wish we were more transparent about this with the current trainees so it doesn’t surprise them.

    Reply

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