Context: Many medical students take leaves of absence (LOA), both planned and unplanned. Unplanned LOA relate to personal or academic situations which arise and create the need for a student to temporarily suspend their medical education. This can be a high-stakes decision for the student and the school. However, there is a dearth of published literature regarding the experience of students who take a LOA to guide decision-makers. The aim of this study is to examine the experiences of medical students who took an unplanned LOA and subsequently returned to school. Methods: A phenomenological analysis of semi-structured interviews of eight medical students returning from unplanned LOAs at two urban, academic medical centers was conducted. Transcripts were analyzed and themes were coded, and consensus regarding all themes was reached through an iterative process. Results: Eight themes were identified. Some important concerns included having a sense of choice to take a LOA, the burden of logistical issues, clear communication from administrators, and worries about stigma upon return. The students retrospectively viewed their LOA as helpful and their subsequent return as less stressful than feared. Discussion: The experiences of these students indicate several primary concerns that medical schools can anticipate in order to support students considering or taking an unplanned LOA. The more information a school is able to share with these students, the greater the potential to reduce anxiety at this vulnerable stage. Future research should attempt to explore these findings in a larger sample and correlate them with academic and other outcomes.
- Qualitative analysis
- Qualitative research
- Student advising
- Student development
- Undergraduate medical education