Taking a Break from Your Medical Education

February 26, 2021

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Some medical students need to interrupt their medical education to accommodate educational goals or special circumstances. Knowing how to handle a leave of absence is important, so carefully consider the ramifications of how a break in your education may delay graduation or other milestones within your career.

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Planning to Take a Leave of Absence

First, consult with your advisor and make sure that everyone, who needs to be, is in the “loop” about your decision.  Typically, a Leave of Absence (LOA) is a period of non-enrollment when a student is not required to pay (full) tuition and fees. However, for some institutions, this process may be associated with a fee. Check your institution’s policy regarding a LOA for specific requirements.

There are many acceptable reasons for a LOA; some reasons may include:

  • Research
  • An additional graduate degree
  • An international educational opportunity
  • Extramural elective opportunities (outside of your medical school)
  • Family leave or medical leave
  • Additional time to study for boards
  • Customized curriculum
  • Other personal reasons

Preparing to Leave or Return to Campus

There are several things to do to ensure your LOA—departure and re-entry—are as smooth as possible.

Be sure to stay in contact with the financial aid staff at your school and re-apply for financial aid during the appropriate cycle.  

Be certain to communicate your intended actions with all applicable departments at your institution. The earlier you notify these departments of your intentions, the better. Many times, some forms, actions, or services are bound by time-sensitive requirements.

Some schools limit the amount of time a student is allowed to be away from their institution; some institutions may require that students start the academic year even if they intend to take time off; and some schools may not allow a LOA during certain medical school years or during certain rotation cycles.  Confirm your school’s policy with your dean or advisor; knowing this information before taking the LOA will make the transition easier for you.

Refer to the checklist on this fact sheet as you prepare for your LOA, and also upon your return. Make sure you investigate all policies and think about any ramifications the LOA may have before you make the final decision. There may be implications to your financial aid package, expected date of graduation, or family life, and it’s important to know about those possible changes before taking the LOA.

Discuss any questions you have about your LOA with the financial aid staff at your school.

LOA Checklist

Before You Leave:

  • Familiarize yourself with your institution's leave policy
  • Check loan status to find out if you will be entering repayment
  • Notify offices (registrar, financial aid, student affairs, etc.)
  • Get health insurance in order
  • Suspend parking arrangements, housing, and miscellaneous living expenses (phone, laptops, IT etc.)
  • Notify student email and amenities/accounts
  • Participate in an exit interview
  • Provide forwarding address and point of contact information

Prior to Your Return:

  • Check your student loan status
  • Notify the school (all relevant offices) of your intent to return
  • Plan, sign up, or confirm course registration
  • Determine billing and payment arrangements
  • Complete the FAFSA and any other required financial aid applications
  • Reapply for necessary financial aid (loan[s], grants, etc.)
  • Get health insurance in order
  • Apply for parking
  • Set up or confirm housing and miscellaneous expenses (phone, laptops, etc.)

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