Despite reports of burned out doctors abandoning their careers, many other doctors simply want some time off -- perhaps a year or more -- to take a breather, spend time with family, or take a sabbatical abroad. The AMA warns that leaving clinical practice for an extended period of time should not be taken lightly: "Lack of retraining before reentry raises questions about patient safety and the clinical competence of reentered physicians." Doctors need to be aware that, "getting back in the game is expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes nearly impossible. So before you take a hiatus from medicine, ask yourself--can you afford it?" (medpage.com)
"Medical schools do a fantastic job at graduating brand new medical students," says Dr. Humayan J. Chaudry, President of the Federation of State Medical Boards. "But what about people who have already graduated and need to get some retraining? There is clearly a dearth of those kinds of training programs." (nextavenue.org)
One such reentry program is a 3-month mini-residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Doctors combine patient care with class attendance, learning new diagnostic and treatment plans and procedures that bring them up to date on current best practices. "They just need polishing up to practice safely and competently," says Dr. Robert Steele, the program's director.
In 2013, Dr. Leonard Glass created the Physician Retraining and Reentry Program at the USC Department of Family Medicine in San Diego. "Besides retraining primary care doctors, the online program has attracted specialists who wanted to switch to primary care and restless retirees." (nextavenue.org) "Some are simply tired of being retired," says Dr. Glass. "It's sort of an itch to go back to taking care of people."
Cedars Sinai Medical Center is one of several reentry programs run by hospitals. "There, participants spend between six weeks and three months seeing patients under the supervision of other physicians, then discuss their cases in an exit interview to demonstrate what they learned. They leave with a letter that can be submitted to employers and hospitals."
Reentry programs such as these can cost several thousand dollars and program completion does not automatically guarantee hospital or clinical privileges. Plus, state licensing boards often impose stringent preceptorship and testing requirements for physicians wanting to return to practice, especially after an extended leave of absence. Before taking time off from clinical practice, physicians should check with their state medical boards to determine what it will take to resume practice at a later date, even if at the moment it's not part of their plan. A good resource for physicians planning their return to practice is www.physician-reentry.org.
Not leaving clinical practice completely may be a viable option that can help avoid costly and time-consuming retraining and reentry. As the AMA points out: "Availability of part-time work and flexible scheduling have a strong influence on decisions to leave or reenter clinical practice." Practicing as a locum tenens doctor, for example, helps doctors keep their knowledge and skills current while enjoying a more flexible, less demanding schedule.