Recognizing accomplishments and a ticket to residency: That was Match Day. But now, at the doorstep of the next challenge, you’d better take a hard look at your most important personal relationship.
That is, if you want to keep your good thing together. Because if you think residency is going to be the start of easy, no-maintenance times for you and your partner, maybe you need to go back to medical school. I know about this: I married an MD.
You’re planning a move and girding for the unknowns of becoming an R-1. And what about your partner? How’s it going to look and feel for him or her? How will love survive residency and the years ahead?
Sabrina and I moved across the country for her residency in June of 1994. There are days of goodbyes to family in Madison, Wisconsin, and nights packing a U-Haul truck. Basking in the beauty of the west, we settled near Puget Sound, not far from the Tacoma Family Medicine campus.
And then the journey really began. Those three hectic years for my wife were, by her account, as energizing as they were challenging. The program was top-notch, and the attendings smart and gracious. The other residents, partners, and spouses quickly became friends, and we united as a supportive group who shared meals and traveled together.
The years of rotations flew by; I watched and listened from the sidelines. And for the first time in our relationship, I recognized that I wouldn’t be the support person the way a collegial workmate was. I wasn’t deep in the trenches of rotations or experiencing the boot camp of trial by fire. If I wasn’t experiencing it, how could I really understand? There were limits to how I could empathize, and that felt isolating.
But we quickly learned to make the most of limited time together. This meant more scheduling than we were accustomed to, but it worked. This turns out to be a key thing to this day, the value of precious, shared time in a hectic life of divergent careers.
After three years in Tacoma, we said goodbye to our temporary community on the sound, refilled the U-Haul, and returned to rural northern Wisconsin. We married shortly after and raised two beautiful, now-adult children.
My sample size is small and not peer-reviewed, but after watching couples for decades – when at least one individual is a physician – there are some takeaways. Residents have little control over their time, and the demands don’t ease post-residency. After a long day seeing patients, how will you have time and energy for yourself and for your kids and spouse? That might take some work, but not everyone likes the concept of ‘work’ in the context of relationships.
Can physicians practice the same healthy and balanced lifestyle they advocate daily to patients?
For non-physicians in the family, who is your support when your spouse isn’t around, and you’re living in a new community? Can the support be a long-term supplement to your primary relationship, or will it end up as a surrogate? Most couples – no matter the careers – need other friends and support – but if your resident spouse is already winding down by hours of texting with work colleagues rather than engaging you, maybe it’s time for a conversation about that. Can you and your resident spouse adapt as demands on your time skyrocket?
Can your relationship remain strong in the next year? It certainly can. Making time for your partner during residency brings unique challenges that will test even the most solid of relationships. These are the sorts of discussions not always easy but best practiced now, much as a resident gets reps and experience before going into practice.
It’s a hopeful time, the adventurous years of residency. But make sure to spend time cultivating your most important relationship because what you invest in it now will give you the best chance at a successful long-term partnership as an R-1 and in the years to come.
Rolfe Hanson is a writer.
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