Sunday, April 19, 2009

Medical training and marriage

At the park today, I was talking to another parent I know who is not in the medical profession (for the sake of ease, let's call him Fred). Since Fred knows I'm a doctor, he mentioned he had been watching a TV show on NOVA that followed 7 Harvard-educated doctors over 21 years.

Fred told me that he was amazed by both the hard work that these people put into their careers but also by the way their relationships were ripped apart by their professions. He said all but one of the doctors ended up divorced.

I always felt that med school brought my boyfriend (now husband) and I closer. He was actually a much better boyfriend when I was stressed out and upset--he was incredible at calming me down. If I hadn't been dating him during my surgery and ICU rotations, I might never have discovered what a perfect match he was for me. And he learned that I was willing to put my relationship before my career.

For this reason, I tell med students who are concerned about relationships that med school is actually a great test. After all, with all the stress of my 3rd year clerkships and internship, the hardest year in our marriage was probably the first year after our daughter was born. I've heard that's common. Wouldn't you rather know your relationship stands up to stress BEFORE you have a child?

Yes, a lot of long term relationships fall apart during medical training. But 50% of marriages in the general population fail anyway, so clearly a lot of people are getting married who aren't right for each other. Perhaps medical training just hastens the inevitable.

10 comments:

  1. I'm married to another physician and we both cannot imagine being married to someone who is not in the medical profession. It really brings a sense of understanding to it.

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  2. My husband isn't in medicine. If he were, I don't think we'd have a child yet... it would have been near impossible to work around two sets of call schedules.

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  3. My husband is not in the medical profession, and I am so grateful for it. He has always been able to bring an outside perspective to my problems, one that none of my medical friends could.

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  4. my boyfriend (non-medical) and i watched the series and that was both of our first thoughts - "they all either got divorced or never married". it was a great way though to talk about how the whole process has changed for the better, and that the mindset of most in my class is that being a doctor is like a "longer 8-5 kind of job", vs. "this is your life period". plus, maybe they were selecting out the most neurotic of the neurotics, since it was filmed at harvard...

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  5. I watched the first part of the series and I have the second part recorded. While it may be disheartening to see so many divorces, I have to agree with Fizzy. Medical school and beyond can also strengthen a relationship. I was dating my now-husband while he was in medical school and it really brought us together.

    There's a book called the Medical Marriage that discusses successful and non-successful medical marriages. If you're able to be a source of support and strength for your spouse, I think a medical marriage can be incredibly rewarding. The book confirms that theory (and it doesn't matter whether both spouses are a physician).

    Also, I think we naturally gravitate towards bad news as opposed to good news. I heard someone mention that only one marriage in the documentary was still strong. We're quick to see all the bad (and I'm sure the documentary focuses on the drama too) but there was some good in there too. I suppose I should reserve further comment until I've seen the second half.

    Anyway, I hope my marriage continues to be a source of happiness and comfort for us both. With support, good resources, and determination, I think it can be done.

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  6. I'm a physician married to a physician. I think that fact both adds and subracts from our marriage. On the positive side, we can understand in a way most non-medical spouses can't when the other is late because a family mtg didn't end "on time". We also have intellectually interesting conversations, since we both enjoy clinical medicine, science, and detective work. On the flip side, we also have 3 small kids, and the reality is that it's tough for 2 physicians to be able to raise 3 small kids. The bottom line is that, most of the time, you either enlist a 3rd parent (aka nanny), or one person's career takes a backseat (mine...I now work part-time). In our case, we did both. The career sacrifices involved can cause some resentment if both parents were very career-focused prior to having kids, as we were. We hope that eventually,our roles will reverse somewhat, and he will be able to be the parenting "heavy" while I can do more doctoring again. That's marriage after all--give and take and lfocusing on the long-term balance.

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  7. My husband and I married just before medical school. He (not a physician) went into the Army right after that and was on active duty the entire time I was in medical school. We didn't live together until I started residency, and that was an adjustment on top of another adjustment. But after 34 years and two grown children I guess it's worked out OK. I think we've been very fortunate, don't think it;s really anything we've done. I missed the series and hope it will rerun.

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  8. My husband met me when I was in the throes of applying to med school. Maybe that's why we don't feel that medical school has adversely affected our relationship. Will have to see how residency tests it though.

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  9. I began dating my (now) husband a few months before starting med school and honestly, I don't know if I would have made it through without him. Being outside of the medical field, he was often able to help me maintain a much needed sense of perspective. For us the biggest challenge was being long distance most of the time- I in med school in Texas, he in seminary in New Jersey. Ironically for us, we are looking forward to residency as a chance to see each other more than we have for the past 4 years, not less!

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  10. I am curious ouisi, how your husband was there for you when you were long distance? I am currently in a long distance relationship (see each other once a month) and find that it feels very disconnected and I find myself relying on family more to support me. It is very frustrating and after 1 year I am impressed you lasted 4!

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