response to your question: the life of a medical wife

June 3, 2012

[as told from the somewhat skewed perspective of someone who happens to be a dr. herself]

i have a million post ideas swirling around in my head right now, but a. is stirring and therefore i am distracted.  however, i received this email a couple of days ago and thought i would perhaps respond online, in case anyone else was interested in my thoughts on relationships and medical training.

Hi Sarah,

I know you must be insanely busy with having a new baby and all, but I just found your blog (through a link from Baby Kerf) and I was touched by your post about people’s unnecessary negatively. I was wondering if you had a few minutes for some advice. You see, my long-time boyfriend is applying to medical school next year. We will be at a cross-road: either we’ll take our relationship to the next level and I follow him wherever this crazy adventure takes us, or we will part ways. Parting ways really isn’t an option for us, but I say it because I have not had one positive comment about his entering medical school. At this point, I’m totally scared. I realize I’m seeking out positivity and that one person’s perspective on this isn’t representative of everyone (and you don’t know me at all!) but I don’t actually know anyone who’s gone through medical school! All these other people either work in the medical profession or just have a friend of a friend who died tragically in a fire because they tried to be married to a doctor. Ha haaa. 
Anyway, your blog is fantastic and you seem really down to earth. Good luck with your baby and everything!

first of all, thank you!  
second of all, your question is a little bit harder to answer from my perspective because while josh does have an all-consuming career right now that did begin with med school, i was there too.  as in:  not only did we get to spend the first few years more-or-less doing the same things [with the same hectic schedules and study-burden], but i have a pretty good perspective on exactly what it is like to be doing his job all day.  i may be frustrated or annoyed that he comes home late often, but i’ve been there in the trenches myself [and sometimes still am].  i truly understand that at this juncture it’s not at all optional for him.
to begin with, the medical school part — there are going to be times when you will likely feel alienated.  he will be studying/thinking/breathing medicine, and he will likely start spending at least some of his time with others who are doing the same thing.  i think that in some ways, the part would be quite challenging from the perspective of an ‘outsider’ — but it certainly doesn’t have to be a relationship death sentence.
during the first couple of years [well, first year if it’s duke or a couple of other accelerated programs!] most of the learning takes place in the classroom, and the hours aren’t terrible.  however, the homework load is very high [ie, all the studying one needs to do outside of the classroom in order to succeed].  let me tell you — i don’t miss cramming for exams!  one thing that i would suggest would be to talk about how this is going to work ahead of time.  will there be specific nights that are JUST for you two as a couple?  certain traditions you two want to be able to keep up together?  how will weekends work with his studying?  
going in with a bit of a game plan will help you both know what to expect.  and i firmly believe that with a lot of organization and discipline, this part of medical school does not have to take over your life completely.  there should still be time for fun and hours spent NOT studying anatomy.  josh and i fell in love that year and let me tell you — we made time for each other 🙂  i actually look back on that year so fondly that i’ve forgotten that it was pretty academically intense.  we both ended up with [mostly] good grades and board scores in the end, and i don’t regret a single hour that i DIDN’T spend studying!
the later years are a bit different.  clinical work and residency both involve a lot of time away from home.  again, not ALL of his time, but a good portion of it.  i would talk about how you two are going to handle this, and i would plan to either a) get some hobbies or b) get used to spending some quality time with friends or alone!  i struggled with this during residency because when my hours were less intense than josh’s [often], i’d be left with nights by myself.  i started out sulking about this, but gradually accepted it as reality and started to enjoy the time to myself.  hobbies like running, cooking, and this blog [duh] helped keep me going so that i wasn’t just sitting around waiting for him to get home.
finally, in terms of knowing what you’re getting into, i’m not going to sugar-coat things — it can be hard being the one at home while your spouse/boyfriend/partner works all of the time.  i’ve gotten comments on this blog [perhaps from those not familiar with the demands placed on surgical residents/fellows] that say things like, “why doesn’t he get up in the middle of the night?” or “why do you end up with all of the housework?”.  and sometimes i find myself getting all huffy about it myself, but then i realize — when josh is literally working 4:30a – 9p some nights, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE [or smart] for him to be contributing by doing some of those things?  he absolutely does pitch in when he can, but there are times when it really is ALL me.  thankfully, my fellowship is less intense and let me tell you — i wouldn’t want to trade places.  i do try to not let josh forget it [i want to be appreciated! i like gold stars . . . ], but i also remind myself that i ‘signed up for this’ — i.e., knew what i was getting into.  

bath night saturday night – he was home just in time at 6:30!!

it’s worth it because i really do love him that much, and perhaps also because the times that we do have together feel that much more special.  i’m hoping that maybe when he is an attending things will be a LITTLE bit easier hours-wise, but i’m also not holding my breath.
hope this helps!  others with medical spouses [particularly if you are not in medicine yourselves], feel free to weigh in.

workout: 30 day shred level 2.  i was able to do REAL walking pushups in the first section!  progress!!
plus a 3-mi stroller walk.
dinner:  cop out frozen pizza — and dark beer, which josh and i split.  i didn’t pump out any more than usual this AM, so perhaps i’ll have to try a full on next time . . .

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