Do You Get Vacation During Medical Residency?

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August 8, 2022
Residency is a busy time filled with many clinical, professional, and educational responsibilities. Much of the time, it can be a 60-hour or even 80-hour work week without much downtime. With a busy schedule, you may wonder whether you have time to relax and what that might look like. Here’s how vacation during residency works and how you can plan the time you’ll have free from work.

Take advantage of your scheduled vacation

In most programs, residents receive four weeks of vacation per academic year where they’re free from educational and clinical work. Depending on your program, this may come in the form of two two-week stretches, four one-week stretches, or a combination. This is your best opportunity in residency to go somewhere for vacation. You may choose to explore a new place, visit friends or family in another city, or travel to another country.

Usually, your program will ask when you’d like to have time off before the start of the academic year. You’ll then receive a schedule that reviews your rotations and vacation time, so you’ll have plenty of time to plan.

Although residency doesn’t usually pause for most federal holidays, you’ll most likely have some time off around the holiday season. You may not be free for all major days during this time, but you should have at least some time away.

A piece of advice: if you need to travel for the holidays, coordinate this as soon as you have your schedule since you likely won’t have flexible dates. Costs may also increase as your vacation approaches, especially during the busy holiday season.

Consider a staycation

You don’t have to plan an elaborate vacation during your time off. You may not have the bandwidth to think about booking flights and hotels while working long hours in the hospital. In addition, travel can be expensive, and you may be saving extra money during residency to pay down loans or plan for the future.

A staycation can be a great way to unwind and have the break you need before diving back into work. Remember, the right answer for how to spend your time off is doing whatever is best for you.

Decompress during electives or conferences

Depending on your specialty, you may have time off to do a research elective or attend a conference. These are great professional opportunities to develop a research project, present the results of your work, and learn from leaders in your field. If you decide to do the elective, you’ll usually have much if not all of the rotation free from clinical responsibilities.

Furthermore, if you can complete your work remotely, you may be able to do the elective in a new destination and spend your free time exploring the area. Although conferences can be quite busy, if you’re able to go, this time away from work can be quite enjoyable.

“Golden weekends” are perfect for mini vacations

The ACGME requirements limit your work to 80 hours per week, averaged over a four-week period. This usually equates to about four days free from clinical responsibilities per month. Depending on how this is divided across your schedule, you may have both Saturday and Sunday off of work, or a “golden weekend.” Furthermore, outpatient clinics are usually closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so if you’re on an ambulatory or elective block, you’ll probably have weekends free during the rotation.

If you do get weekends off, Friday evening to Monday morning are great opportunities to plan quick weekend getaways. Depending on whether there’s an airport near you, you may be able to fly somewhere. Keep in mind that it can be hard to find an affordable flight that makes sense for a short trip, so if air transportation doesn’t work out, consider taking a train or a road trip instead.

To reiterate, you shouldn’t feel obligated to plan anything elaborate during this time. A weekend staycation can be extremely relaxing when you can rest, catch up on life, and spend time with others locally.

Make the most of the time you get

The bottom line is that, although residency is busy, you do get time off that you can (and should) use to relax and recharge. You have many options about how to spend that time: traveling to see a new place or spending time with someone afar, exploring the world and voyaging internationally, or simply staying at home and catching up on life. This kind of free time during residency is limited, so do what you find is the best way to recuperate and prevent burnout before diving back into your busy day-to-day.


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By Michael Stephens, MD


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