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I had been working in emergency medicine for many years – I was tired and burnt out.
Some of the problems came from within me and some were due to the environment in which I worked. For some people, the thought of taking a career break could seem like an impossible dream, or possibly a threat to their career, but for me, it was a much-needed, sanity-saving and rejuvenating period away from the world of work.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Reading the Health Board’s policy document I realised that the scheme was mainly designed for parents wanting to spend more time at home with their young children, or for those needing to care for a dependent relative. However, anyone could apply, whatever their reason, and so I did. When it came to asking for the break, I wasn’t worried, I knew my colleagues supported me and realised that I needed it, and I am glad I talked to them informally before speaking to my clinical director.
My clinical director’s immediate response was one of surprise, but there was no negative aspect to it, and all my colleagues immediately started expressing envy, with some saying that they thought I wouldn’t want to return. The latter did not concern me as even if I decided I didn’t want to return permanently, I would have to return for a while in order to set my affairs in order – eg sell my house, pack up all my possessions and re-home the cats.
So what did I do? I based myself back in my native Australia, where I was fortunate to have family and friends who were willing to have me to stay for varying periods of time. I spent more time with them than I had been able to for a long time and reconnected with people I’d not seen for many years. I spent nearly eight weeks travelling through northern and central Australia in a camper van.
I visited the islands of Papua New Guinea, where I’d spent my childhood, and helped my father finally finish and publish a book about the town in which we’d lived while there. I spent a month in New Zealand and had the added bonus of a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with friends. Most importantly, I regained my sense of perspective, and was able to remember the enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my job, rather than just the bad parts.
When I returned to work I was apprehensive; although I knew I was feeling so much better, there was a degree of underlying anxiety that this feeling might not last. I also felt as if I had forgotten everything! There probably should have been some sort of return to work programme, but in my case there wasn’t. Despite my concerns, by day two I realised that I hadn’t forgotten things after all. Most things hadn’t changed, but I had, and nearly three years on I’m happy to say that I’m surviving well.
If you’re thinking of taking a career break, I’ve listed some things to consider.
Practical matters – where to start?
Ask yourself the following questions:
What do I want to achieve?
How much time will it take?
How much time can I actually afford to take off?
Read your local career break policy in detail and make sure it’s the most up-to-date version.
Talk to your clinical director and be able to explain why you feel you need the time away.
Aim to give as much notice to your department as possible and get the approval signed as soon as you can. There is a right to appeal if you encounter resistance to your application.
Have you taken care of your superannuation?
It is vital to contact your health board or trust to find out what the policy is. At the time I took my break, the local policy stated that if I took up to 12 months off, and upon my return was able to pay that year’s employee contributions, the organisation would pay the employer’s contributions for that year. If I hadn’t been able to do this, I would have been classed as having left the scheme, and would have had to join a newer scheme upon my return.
Check what needs to happen with your GMC registration
Someone suggested I could suspend my registration for a year, but I was warned that if there were delays reinstating it, this could lead to problems when I wanted to start back at work.
Find out if your medical indemnity and college membership fees can be reduced while you’re not working.
Check your appraisal and revalidation dates
If you are away when an appraisal is due, a document needs to be signed by your clinical director upon your return, explaining why the appraisal was missed.
National Insurance contributions and taxation
NI contributions can be made up when you return to work if you wish to do this. Working only part of one or two tax years may result in a welcome refund.
Income protection, insurance and private pensions
Contact the companies well ahead of time to discuss these. If you’re going away during your break, check your household and vehicle insurance policies carefully – leaving a house unoccupied for more than a certain length of time can invalidate your policy, and the same goes for a car left unused in a garage. You will need to look further than usual for a travel insurance policy that covers a long period away – many annual policies only cover you for trips of a certain duration.
Beth Threlfall is the Scotland SAS doctors committee chair and an associate specialist in emergency medicine
Is working overseas allowed in a career break
I'm also currently on a career break due to my husband's job moving abroad for a year-without this reason I would have found it hard to "deserve" the break and instigate it myself, even though I've been ready for one for a long time...but it's the best thing I've ever had the opportunity to do in my career. Half way through, and realised early on that there's so much to gain from time out, and I will be a refreshed doctor on my return. The support from my team and Trust was excellent and this helps. If it's manageable it should be something everyone should have a chance at, but no one tells you about it being an option...
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Honestly i wish i could take a break too, i have so much work piled up on www.queensland-assignment.com/.../ and let me just tell you, its so much that i literally can not think of taking a break, it would be the very end of me !
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