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A Year Set Apart–Could This Really Be a “Sabbatical”?

My Medical Mid-Life Sabbatical–Chapter 3

By Jane Doe, MD

Mid life transitionThis is the third in a series of posts about returning to training at mid-life.  Now a little more than a week into a yearlong fellowship in a technical area of my specialty, I offer the next chapter of my medical mid-life sabbatical.

Since going public with my decision I have been repeatedly asked “Why?”  This is asked sometimes with incredulity, sometimes with curiosity and sometimes with wistfulness.  The mood of the question often correlates to the career stage of the questioner.   The recurrent questioning has lead me to ponder, even more, my own reasons, my own “why?”

I have used the word “sabbatical” with some of my colleagues, especially academic types, as a shorthand way of deflecting the question of  why.  Many people equate the word with a time off to accomplish something outside of regular work life.  The classic examples are to research a book or complete bench research if one is a clinician or to pursue an extended medical mission.  I found the term a bit lofty to apply to me and my goals.  I  felt so much like a bit of a fraud using this word, “sabbatical.”

A colleague directed me to the Wikipedia entry for “sabbatical.”  The root has to do with rest or cessation of usual activities.  An undergirding concept is the Old Testament directive to allow fields to be fallow in the seventh year to be replenished. Though well past the seventh year I am indeed doing these things:  I am resting from being the last name on the chart. I am ceasing my usual activities. I am, in large part, replenishing myself.  So, as my colleague pointed out, I am connected to a deeper and broader tradition than I first appreciated.  Surely not to be the only new revelation I have in this, my sabbatical year.


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