Returning to work after a period of absence

Published: 14/05/2019


Doctors may be away from their normal working environment for many reasons and these periods of absence can extend from months to years. This guidance is directed at anaesthetists returning to anaesthesia after a career break and not for those who are exploring a change of specialty after a career break. Managing a successful return to practice is ultimately a customised journey, led by the individual and supported by their employer, with patient safety the key factor to be addressed by both parties. It is the duty of all doctors to ensure they are safe to return to practice.

There is very little evidence around how long a doctor has to be away from their workplace before consideration needs to be given to supporting the individual’s return to work (RTW). There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and limited published data suggesting that the two most important factors are length of time away from clinical practice and age.1 In a craft based speciality with experiential learning, the amount of time in training or practice before taking a career break may affect the rate at which the anaesthetist returns to their previous levels of confidence, competence and knowledge.

For the majority of doctors returning to work (maternity leave form the largest group) there is an expectation of a return to normal practice in a short period of time. Guidance for returning to work:

  • 3–6 months requires local support
  • 6–12 months require some support
  • > 1 year a more structured approach
  • > 3 years, anticipate a significant supervised period with robust assessment of progress

Examples of reasons for absence from the workplace include:

  • maternity/parental leave
  • a period of full time research
  • approved leave of absence in support of national/international activity
  • secondment to another body