Fifty years ago, it was very uncommon to find doctors married to other doctors. Why? To answer that question, we need to explore the sociology of the time. Fewer women went to college, which meant fewer female doctors. Many couples married early, right out of high school or right after college. If the wife had career aspirations herself, these were often put aside in order to help her husband get through medical school.
Today, men and women often delay marriage until their late twenties or early thirties for a variety of reasons. For many, they want to achieve career success before adding the demands of family. Others simply don’t feel ready to settle down at 22 years old, the way their parents did.
Given the rigor and all-consuming nature of medical school and residency, this is particularly true for doctors. As many more young doctors enter the final stages of their training still single, there is more opportunity to find the perfect mate among their colleagues.
When doctors marry doctors
The epitome of office romance, flirtation between young residents or between nurses and doctors may seem like something straight out of an ER or Greys Anatomy script. But who would better understand the stress young residents face than another resident (or nurse)?
Think about who you spend most of your time with and the social circles you find yourself in. Likely, you are mostly surrounded by other doctors and health professionals by necessity; there is not much time for outside pursuits, right? When young doctors spend 60 to 80 hours per week at the hospital, and the rest of their free time studying, the bonds that form among fellow residents and hospital staff become very important.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, around 47 percent of medical school graduates in the United States are female, and in some states, that percentage creeps even closer to 50 percent. It is very likely for doctors to be attracted to and pursue a relationship with someone they spend a lot of time with. AMA Insurance reports in the 2014 Work/Life Profiles of Today’s U.S. Physician that 40 percent of doctors marry other doctors or health care professionals.
There are several obvious benefits to the formation of romantic attachments between doctors and their peers or colleagues. Probably the most obvious is that another doctor or health professional knows what you are going through. They understand the stress, the guilt, the sleep deprivation, the grief, the fear. They also understand the passion for healing and the desire to care for others, and that the duty and responsibility often comes before self or the relationship.
While this is not to say that someone outside the health profession can’t be supportive (remember, over 50 percent of doctors also marry outside the field, with often successful results), it can be very affirming to know you can cut loose without fear of being misunderstood.
Communication between health professionals is often easier. The medical shorthand and complex jargon is sometimes difficult for people outside the health fields to understand. Since doctors live and breathe medicine 16 hours/day, it can be difficult to turn that off when you come home and frustrating to constantly explain terminology.
On the other side of the examination table, it may also be difficult for a doctor or health professional to relate to career challenges and office politics a spouse may face in non-health-related careers, which can be frustrating for the spouse. For this reason, shared experiences, common language, and similar priorities of couples who both practice in the medical profession can be beneficial in developing strong marriages.
While there are many benefits to choosing a partner from within the healthcare profession, there are certainly challenges. The practice of medicine tends to attract certain strong personality types. Medical schools train doctors to be decision makers, often in life-or-death situations. It’s very difficult to turn off that intellectual authoritarian persona when you arrive home. If you are also married to a doctor, then inevitable clash of who gets to be the decision maker could be epic. While marrying another doctor may benefit you in terms of easier communication and shared experience, you may both need to work hard to cultivate a different set of skills at home: compromise and humility.
But what if your spouse or partner is not a doctor but another member of the health care profession (nurse, physical therapist, administrator, etc.)? Doctors and nurses (and other health care professionals) may share common experiences and communicate on a similar level, but they view their roles and contributions through different lenses. Neither is right or wrong, just different. Being able to view the world through your partner’s lens may not only help you be a better spouse, but may also give you insights that will help you be a better doctor. While extremely worthwhile, this task isn’t easy.
Other challenges that may face couples in the health care professions revolve around work-life balance. This is true for many people in demanding careers, but few careers are as all-consuming as health care. It’s not only the work hours, but health care providers pour so much of themselves into their work — their passion, their devotion, even their emotions — that there is often little left at the end of the day for outside pursuits and for putting effort into relationships. If both partners are consumed in this way, it makes relationships all the more challenging.
Exacerbating the emotional challenges are the logistical ones: competing work schedules, reliable child care, etc. Some couples even find it difficult to schedule time off or vacation time together, especially if they work in the same hospital.
A growing trend
Statistics seem to indicate that the trend of doctors choosing lifemates from within the medical community will continue to grow. Like any relationship, these marriages can be happy and fulfilling with a little work and effort. These marriages don’t require more effort than the typical marriage, but doctors typically have much less left to give at the end of the day. To make marriages between health professionals work, understanding the challenges you will face and developing coping mechanisms early in your relationship will be helpful.
Tanika Forestal is a marriage and family therapist who blogs at Better Black Marriages.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com