Vacations are good for your health

I received an e-mail from a friend with a good idea I hadn’t thought of before. As I sat on the back of the paddle wheel boat, The American Empress, riding up the Columbia River Gorge on vacation with my parents, his email was especially timely.

His suggestion was to plan on working two years past where you originally wanted to retire and use those added 104 weeks as vacation spread throughout your career. You will work just as many days as if you retired two years earlier, but the added vacation time will make every year of your career at bit more tolerable.

For example, if you were planning on a career of 30 years and change it to 32, you could add those 104 weeks, spread out over the 32 years, and get an extra 3 weeks off each year. If you are already 15 years into your career, then you can spread those weeks over the remaining 17 years and take 6 extra weeks of vacation every year for the rest of your working career.

How would you like an extra 6 weeks off this year? For most of us, that would be a welcome addition. I took between 9 and 13 weeks off each year of my practice and I needed them all. I often took a 3 week vacation every summer to travel in my motorhome with my family. Doctors work long hours and long weeks compared to most everyone else. I remember having an office nurse ask me “why should I only get 4 weeks off this year while you get 12?” Then I pointed out to her that she gets every weekend off, but I don’t. She gets every evening off, but I don’t. She gets every night off and receives no phone calls during her sleeping hours, but I don’t.

A doctor is often only truly off during their vacation. I know some who even call in and check on their patients when they are on vacation. That’s a waste of a vacation if you’re still thinking about work. When we calculated the amount of time the nurse was off during the year compared to the amount of time I was off, including our respective vacations, she had way more time off than I did. She was no longer envious of my 12 weeks off that year.

Do you take enough vacation? It often takes a week just to wind down and bring your stress level back to normal and forget about the patients you left behind at the start of your vacation. If you only take one week vacations during the year, you may never get to fully recover and rejuvenate your soul during your career. If you don’t get time to decompress, you will eventually burn out. Don’t go there.

Take a good look at how much time off you take during the year and make sure it is enough to keep you healthy. Whatever amount you think you need, you need more. If your contract won’t allow more paid vacation, and you feel you need it, then take it as unpaid vacation. If you are employed and the boss is saying you can’t have more vacation and you need a break, there are always locums doctors who can fill in for you as you recharge. Remind them that if you don’t stay healthy, it will be a lot harder finding someone to replace you full time than finding someone to cover for you during a few weeks of vacation.

Don’t kill yourself making a living. Life is too short not to enjoy it. Take more vacations.

Comment below about your vacation experience, your favorite one, or how much you think you need. I’d love to hear your story. Learn more about having a fulfilling career in medicine in my book “The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right,” and don’t forget to subscribe to my updates on this site.

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2 thoughts on “Vacations are good for your health”

  1. I couldn’t agree more!

    I’ve had a similar number of weeks off during my career, but have also worked between 10 and 20 weekends of 72+ hours each of those years. Somehow, the perception remains that I have a “cake” schedule as an anesthesiologist.

    We do enjoy our travels — we are somewhat limited by school schedules these days, but we also have plans to take 52 weeks of vacation a year in the not-too-distant future.

    -Physician on FIRE

  2. Well, that may well be for most folks, but I do not have to make my work life “tolerable”: it is fun, engaging and rewarding. I even enjoy most of the “paperwork” — not writing validation protocols so much, but blogging about laser surgical devices is part of my work and I enjoy that immensely. I once worked for 15 years without a day off. I was divorced shortly thereafter…


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