When might GPs benefit from a career break?

Dr Patrice Baptiste explores when a career break from frontline practice could be the right decision.

Stethoscope on computer
(Photo: Atit Phetmuangtong/EyeEm/Getty Images)

I’ve recently been thinking about taking a career break. Although I still enjoy clinical medicine, as a portfolio GP I have a number of other careers and interests that I would like to pursue further.

As much as having a portfolio career allows me to do this, taking a step away from clinical medicine for a short while would allow a faster pace of growth and enable me to make significant progress in some of these other areas.

My reasons for considering a career break

I have recently been asked to write a book about portfolio careers, which I am very excited about. I have always wanted to write a book with a publishing company (I have self-published a short ebook and poetry book). This, as you can imagine, will take a significant amount of time and energy and is something I would like to complete within the next year.

I have also been working on developing myself as a medical educator. I am hoping to undertake an assignment as part of a MSc module and then potentially completing a MSc.

I was also offered a job as senior clinical lecturer and programme lead for the MSc programme at The College of Medicine and Dentistry at Ulster University and appointed as an associate lecturer at The Open University. While I can do these alongside my clinical work as a GP, if I invest more time now I can build solid foundations as a medical educator for the future.

Common career breaks

Most junior doctors seem to take career breaks after completing the foundation programme, most do return to medicine to continue their training.

Career breaks can also be in the form of maternity or paternity leave, or as in my case a break to pursue other interests. Of course they may not be ideal or practical for everyone, especially if you have significant personal commitments.

I personally think that if you can, short career breaks of six months to a year are beneficial and can only add to your skillset and passion for medicine once you have returned to clinical practice.

So, when might you consider taking a career break?

You have lost your passion for medicine
There is absolutely no shame in admitting that the enthusiasm and passion you once had for medicine has now diminished or dwindled.

As you move through your career you will not be the same person you were when you signed up to medicine. You have most likely experienced significant life events (marriage, parenthood, bereavement) which may have changed your perspective on life and what is important to you.

The important thing is to recognise this and to then try to reignite this passion – a career break could help you do this. You may come to the realisation that medicine is no longer for you and eventually decide to change careers. A career break can give you the time to consider this and work out what is right for you.

Your health
You’ve probably been working really hard for a long time. Most of us have. Working in the NHS during a pandemic can be stressful and take a toll on your physical and mental health.

Doctors will often suffer from burnout and, paradoxically, we are not always the best at looking after ourselves. So, if you realise that your health is suffering now might be the time to take a short break so that you can truly look after yourself.

You want to develop another skill or improve an existing one
For me, I want to improve existing skills and learn new ones. Skills that I may not have the chance to learn if I am solely focused on clinical work.

You may have always wanted to work in another field such as health tech or publishing, so now might be the right time to do it. Whatever you decide to pursue, it will only add to your personal and professional lives.

Benefits of career breaks

Career breaks offer so much for the individual - a happier, more well-rounded and skilled doctor. This in turn can benefit the NHS by leading to better patient care and retention of staff.

I strongly believe career breaks should be encouraged (if feasible) and discussed more within medicine – and seen as an important part of our career development.

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