Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Taking a sabbatical in general practice

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 24 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:S2-7127
  1. Terry Kemple, general practitioner
  1. Bristol

    Terry Kemple points to the advantages of taking a break from the practice and gives advice on how to do it

    General practitioners may join a practice after vocational training and stay in the same practice for 30 years. While many will be happy with this prospect, some may be happier if the 30 years are not consecutive. A sabbatical is a sensible option in a long career to allow rest, recreation, reflection, rejuvenation, research, and the chance to make readjustments.

    A successful sabbatical can meet many of these needs. Six months away from the practice can force you to break your old habits. You must delegate all your practice duties. You can broaden your personal and professional horizons with new challenges of work, travel, research, and learning, and be more than “just a GP.” These challenges can be an antidote to personal burnout. Furthermore, you can discover if you miss your practice more than they miss you, and gain new enthusiasm for your old job or decide on an alternative career.

    Obstacles can be overcome

    Some blocks may seem insurmountable, but with early planning you can overcome them.

    Most partnership contracts include some provision for partners to take a break. These agreements are not standardised and vary from practice to practice. They can be difficult to change. A reasonable provision is that one partner at a time can take a six months' sabbatical every five years provided the absent partner pays for an acceptable locum. Some practices go further and will allow one partner in turn to take a fully paid extended leave and provide a locum at the practice's expense. The advantage of this arrangement is that fully paid extended leave every few years becomes an automatic entitlement. The disadvantage is that all partners contribute to the sabbatical savings plan and will take their entitlement; the resulting regular absence of a partner might be disruptive for the rest of the practice and the …

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