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Updated: January 23, 2023 10 Things

10 Things I know about ... Returning to work after a long hospitalization

On March 20, I was admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit for a severe case of pneumonia. I was in the ICU for six days and stayed an additional 10 days in the hospital before being discharged home with oxygen therapy. It took two weeks before I could go a day without needing the oxygen tank. My lungs were significantly damaged, and it took nearly two months for me to be able to breath well enough to be cleared to return to work, on June 16. I was on leave 88 days. Here are 10 things I learned about managing your practice while you are on unexpected medical leave.

AiVi Nguyen is a partner at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey. Reach her at

10) Your health and your clients are better served if you take a leave of absence and trust your team to manage the matters completely while you focus on your recovery. However, you must build the team and the infrastructure in advance.

9) Remember a leave of absence is not a vacation. When you return from vacation, the work you left is still waiting for you. If your return from leave feels like a return from vacation, it means you did not create a strong enough infrastructure.

8) Cultivate a practice where you are not the only one staffed on a project. A good rule of thumb is every client-related entry in your calendar should be in at least one colleague’s calendar.

7) Encourage your team and your clients to interact as much as possible, so if you are unavailable, your clients are confident they are still in good hands.

6) Grant another person access to your emails and voicemails and direct people to that person in your out-of-office auto-reply email.

5) Even if you can work in some capacity while on leave, avoid it. You risk duplicative work or inconsistency.

4) Manage expectations about how long you will be out. If you don’t know when you will be well enough to return to work, don’t commit to a date.

3) Transition back at your own pace but clearly communicate with your team about what you will be handling and what you still need help with.

2) It is much more efficient to meet with your team on the statuses of all the projects first and to treat the backlog of emails as secondary.

1) Be prepared to disclose, at least, the cause of your medical leave to colleagues and clients. They will be wondering, and your silence will be awkward. Read the room in terms of how much detail to share.

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