Rest as a radical act?

In mid-June I shared the fact that I was heading west to take some time off from the madness that is our life in academic medicine. I’m not going to lie….time off has been good. Really good. Some of that is location (#becauseMontana), and some of that is simply having the time to think clearly without the pressure of running from one thing to the next. I’ve commented more than once that this has been my first summer off since 1989, and I’m mostly kicking myself because I’ve realized that 31 years is quite a few too many.

Although I’m not a fan of quite a few things found in Leviticus (!), the idea of allowing fields to lie fallow every 7th year has merit. I understand that the Biblical principle was to allow the earth time to rest and heal, but why should we think that doesn’t apply to us as living beings as well? In “regular” academia, the idea of taking time away from one’s primary appointment, typically a semester but sometimes as much as a year, has been woven into the fabric for many, many years.

In medicine, we keep talking about burnout and mental health and asking ourselves how we can better support wellness. In academic medicine, in addition to those pressures faced by all physicians as we take care of humans, we have the role conflicts that arise from trying to publish and administrate and lead and teach; how can we expect academic physicians to have almost any hope of psychological health under stress burdens of that magnitude?

Research on sabbaticals is limited at best, but what is out there does clearly demonstrate a benefit to the individual (decreased stress, increased psychological resiliency, improved overall well-being, new ideas to implement) and a benefit to the organization if someone took a sabbatical leave (stress test of the organization’s “bench”, leadership development for individuals on the cusp, enhanced collaboration). What if I were to say that perhaps, just perhaps, sabbatical needs to be the routine, rather than the exception? Sure, it’s a radical idea, but rest seems to still be a radical idea for us as well (hint: it shouldn’t be).

Late last winter when I was contemplating my options with a dear friend on one of our 5 am runs, she wisely asked, “Have you thought about taking a sabbatical? Maybe it’s your season for that.” Based upon that bit of pastoral wisdom, I’m thinking that we should put the good Reverend Anna in charge of our academic lives…

And if you need me, at least for the time being, I’m here in Bozeman, spending time outdoors (which is balm for my soul), working on a personal writing project, and maintaining a commitment to taking a picture of something that resonates with me every day for at least my first 100 days here. This was Monday’s contribution from the Bridger Mountains, looking East: