When I Had Extended Breaks Between Radiology Gigs

In addition to recharging one’s batteries, a temporary hiatus from employment may provide time for self-reflection and recognition of what you truly enjoy about your work.

Folks who have read this blog in recent months are probably aware that I had an extended vacation. It was not a vacation I wanted. My rad group got severely hacked in October and that completely derailed telerads like myself. Things could have gone differently, but ultimately the fastest way to get back on my professional feet was finding a new job.

Unfortunately, “fastest” is a very relative term. Most work in health care, radiology included, isn’t the sort of thing where you can go from interviewing to working in a matter of days. Interview processes, due diligence, and negotiating aside, it can take months before licensing and credentialing are complete.

I wound up with about five months between gigs. The last time I had such a gap, it was back in 2011 when I was first moving into the teleradiology world. At the time, I had no serious expenses, and my bank accounts were bloated with down-payment money that had been accumulating during a prolonged hunt for a house nicer than the paid-off shack in which I was living. Taking a sabbatical for a few months that included the summer seemed just fine to me.

This was not quite the case this time around. My unasked-for break spanned winter and the colder part of autumn, and I now make monthly payments for my new mortgage as well as the vehicle I had to get last year. I had enough savings to live without serious worry but that hadn’t been how I planned to use it. I like my net-cash flow to be in black ink, not red ink

Of course, it was nice to be able to fill my days however I saw fit. I could sleep in if I liked, stay up late watching movies or play video games as the mood struck. I had all the time I could want to play with the two pups who had come to live with me just a few months before. I also cranked up my fitness regimen a notch and generally got things done without a full-time work schedule to interfere.

During these months, as during my hiatus in 2011, I thought more than a couple of times that this might be a little taste of retirement. I had never really planned to retire in the traditional sense and neither of these interludes changed my mind.

Part of my rationale is financial as basic as that might seem. I’ve dutifully stashed stuff away in retirement accounts ever since I could, maxing out my annual 401, 403, and SEP contributions for instance. It’s good to know that will all be there in case I ever do have to call it quits, but I just don’t see myself ever comfortably living off those accounts. Again, I like living in black ink. Even if actuaries were 100 percent certain that I would not outlive my reserves, I just know I would feel a need to budget as if I might. Having an income (not to mention benefits) for as long as I possibly can gives me a sense of security that nothing else could other than, maybe, winning a few hundred million from the lottery.

I flatter myself, however, that most of my motivation is above the level of mere dollars and cents. As much as I’ve enjoyed the abundance of free time during these extended breaks, I just don’t need that much. Friends and family tend to only be able to meet up on weekends and holidays, or maybe occasional weekday evenings, times that I would generally be out of work anyway.

Daytime hours from Monday through Friday still constitute plenty of hours to fill. I know I could take on new projects and hobbies to fill that void but, left to my own devices, I won’t. Instead, I’ll find additional mediocre TV to watch, mindless cellphone games to play, etc. Maybe I would take up pleasure reading again. However, I have found that much of my sabbatical time had a certain “waiting for something to happen” feel to it.

To be fair, there is a difference between my temporary breaks from working and a true, long-haul retirement. In my recent circumstances, things were indeed liable to happen at any moment like another round of interviews, more credentialing paperwork to complete, etc. With such a limited horizon, taking on big new projects, let alone hobbies that could persist for years, was not really in the cards. Resuming a full-time work schedule would kill any such new diversions.

An even higher order reason not to retire, one that I have confirmed for myself after returning to work after both extended breaks is that I really like my work as a diagnostic radiologist. It is intellectually satisfying. I am contributing something to society. There is an extra level of mental engagement when I take on administrative/leadership roles like helping to improve a radgroup, even developing a new one. Plus, at least for the time being, non-rads always seem to want to hear about it.

Maybe the day will come when I change my mind about retiring. I could lose my vision or maybe even enough of my marbles that I have no business reading people’s scans. Radiology, or even health care as a whole, could take such a quality-of-life nosedive that I wouldn’t want to remain in the field. I’d certainly “never say never” about the prospect of shutting down a workstation for my last time but I truly hope I never want to.