If you are wondering how to handle being a married medical student or resident, all you have to do is scratch the surface of a Google search. There is a mountain of advice out there and it all boils down to a couple of things:
- Being married when one or both spouses is in medical school is hard; really, really hard.
- You can get through it.
- You have to be patient, hard-working and focused on future goals.
- Some marriages don’t survive.
We have gathered some of the best bits of advice we found and we present them here for your review and reflection. It’s honest heart-felt advice from those who are living the situation.
Brent Schnipke is a first-year medical student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Beavercreek, OH. At the time he wrote this he was six months into medical school and seven months into his marriage:
- Yes, it is possible to do both. Medical school is not much different than the busy schedule of residency or being a physician. Delaying marriage or avoiding it altogether is futile in the long run. We learn to adjust to different schedules. Marriage in medical school is possible if it is a priority and if it is nurtured.
- Marriage requires prioritizing. Sometimes my wife sacrifices when I have to study all weekend. We have had to sacrifice weekend trips to see friends or family because of my commitment to medical school. My education has been a significant financial sacrifice, as well. We have still managed to make time for the things most important to us: seeing our families, friends, and enjoying the occasional date night.
- Having support is crucial. Support from classmates, professors, school administration, family, and non-medical friends. My wife’s support has made an incredible impact on my well-being through school so far.
- Marriage is difficult, but worth the investment, much like medical school. The hard work and intentional effort required daily for medical school have helped me be a better husband, and marriage has taught me a lot about empathy, compassion, and commitment.
The Pros and Cons
- Married students have a spouse to turn to after a stressful day.
- A spouse can manage the household and have meals ready at the end of a long day.
- Doctors marrying doctors can work. Studies show that these marriages, despite the constraints of time and hectic schedules placed on both partners, tend to be successful.
- Students complain that the extra time they need to make for their spouses makes it harder to spend time with fellow students for study.
- Housing can be difficult to find if the school does not make provisions for it. Financial aid and grants for housing may fall short of off-campus housing costs.
- Finances can be incredibly difficult and a source of great stress. Most will need financial support through medical school and sometimes married medical student have to rely on parents and family for help.
- Divorce rates among married medical students are high, between 20% and 50% depending on the specialty area
- Balancing Work and Childcare is difficult. Most medical programs do not currently have provisions for maternity leave for female medical students.
The Reality Check
Alecia Li Morgan, was married to a doctor. She said: “It’s tough, crazy, wonderful, awful, testing, and inspiring.”
- Displacement: We moved from being 118 miles from my family to being 1884 miles from them.
- Med Student Syndrome: Med students diagnose themselves and others with crazy, rare diseases. At first, I had to choke back the indignation when he repeatedly diagnosed me with rare diseases or overly scrutinized my freckles. Then I got used to it. Then I started being amused by it.
- The Stench: During Anatomy Lab block, Dan came home every day reeking of cadavers. HORRIBLE smell. His clothes. His hair. His skin. His shoes. Everything.
- Imbalance: You may feel like you’re the one taking care of everything; bills, chores, cooking. Sometimes I felt like I was the only adult in the house, especially after we had our first son, and I was juggling being a new mother, working full time plus, AND caring for our house and family.
- Intern year – This one’s a toughie. Your spouse is now a “real” doctor – sort of. Interns have a whole different set of hour rules and regulations now, aimed at making them more rested overall and limited the amount of consecutive hours they can work, but even so, their hours are LONG. And your spouse is going to be tired.
When it falls apart
From a discussion on the medical school forum: “I have learned to not have expectations nor count on the next year being better. I am absolutely willing to sacrifice for him and do not regret any of it, but I can’t stand the feeling that my sacrifices are not being recognized.we haven’t been to dinner or watched a movie together in months. This is really all I want. I feel like he’s losing perspective, taking me for granted, and getting lost in his med school bubble. He says I’m being selfish and I am going to make him fail medical school. He keeps reminding me about how much time is being “wasted” as we talk.”
Is there any way for marriage to survive medical school, internship, and residency? The experts say yes and these tips can help.
- Make your own plans: If your medical student spouse is late for dinner, eat. If you know he isn’t going to make it to the movies as you planned, go yourself. Take the path of least resistance. S/he can’t leave rounds or an emergency case just because plans were made. Avoid the stress and frustration and make your own plans when joint plans fall through.
- You are on the same team. It’s not you against your spouse. You are both exhausted and lonely. You both want time with each other. Work together to get through medical school. It’s the two of you against the problem, not each of you against each other.
- Get to know other spouses. No one quite understands the schedule, the frustrations, and the insane delayed gratification like another resident’s spouse.
In a nutshell, marriage is never easy and it is even more difficult with the demands of medical school. If you are married, hang in there, use some of the strategies that your peers have discovered and keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.