My husband’s medical school offered a “key supporters” session during his first-year orientation week. Each student’s family or significant other was invited to attend a two-hour session to learn the schedule of a student doctor and for a panel discussion from current students and their key supporters.
Most people walking out of the room afterward were really nervous. It sounded like students were studying 15 hours a day with no more than 10 minutes of downtime. They were preparing us to do all of the housework and have little to no quality time with our significant other. Not to mention that they told us in fourth year, the students would be rotating all over the country and not living at home! The couples left stressed, but a month into school, we hit our groove, realizing the picture we had going in was not the reality for him or most of his classmates.
The next year, I had my husband email his school and ask for us to be speakers on the key supporters panel to give incoming couples a more balanced, realistic perspective that validated their significant others’ lives as well. The most important understandings that we had going into year one that made the transition relatively smooth were:
- Medical school is their job and is equally as challenging and important as your job. Your time, rest and health are just as valuable as theirs.
- We are independent and can take care of ourselves and do activities individually. For example, if Vishal was too busy studying and I wanted to take a hike, I would go alone or with a friend.
- Relationships are not even 50/50 at all times. One person steps up to take on more responsibilities when the other needs support. This works both ways!
- Neither of us should be working consistently until bedtime every day and all weekend.
My number-one motto in our relationship, in general, is equity and equality. Equity means we don’t have equal responsibilities all the time because it’s based on who can do what at a given moment in time. Equality is the idea that nobody is above a task, and we will shift duties or even roles to the other person when they need help. Over time, it will all even out. This principle plays out in our daily life, which I’ll outline below.
Year 1-2 hours
- Classes Monday to Thursday were about eight hours long, and many were not mandatory to attend in person because they were recorded. Instead, most students watched the lectures at home on double speed.
- On Fridays, they had a shorter schedule for exams, so students finished around noon.
- Like most professions, work doesn’t stop when you get home. Students do spend the evenings and weekends studying.
- Almost every night, we took the dogs to the park, ate dinner, and then came back together a few hours later to watch a show together before going to bed.
- Friday nights and Saturdays, neither of us worked.
- Some students do study more than this, and some study less. It really depends on the individual! Overall, I had never heard of his friends studying 15 hours straight daily. They all took time to exercise, socialize and unwind.
*The only time this changed was during dedicated study time for board exams, which I’ll talk about another time.
Year 3-4 hours
- Clinic days vary based on the attending’s schedule, but Vishal usually averaged four work days a week.
- In inpatient settings, he had scattered shifts. A majority were day shifts, and a lot of times, these were half days. He did some nights or on-call shifts. He did work a few weekends on each rotation.
- In outpatient settings, he worked from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. A lot of the time, he would get off early and would be home at 2:00 p.m. He did not work weekends on these.
- He studied for a few hours daily when he got home early or on days off. He would also study when he came home for an hour or two to prepare for his cases the next day.
- Our time together didn’t really change. Most days, we still took the dogs to the park, ate dinner and then came back together a few hours later to watch a show together before going to bed.
- We had plenty of time for social activities and entertainment.
Vishal and I divided household tasks when we got married. We completed our tasks from start to finish and didn’t move into the other’s territory unless asked to.
Since I’m a big planner and have anxiety, these principles were essential in minimizing the space housework was taking up in my brain. I learned about these from Eve Rodsky in her book Fair Play. I highly recommend reading it. It completely reshaped the way I thought about running a household. Rodsky also talks about “reshuffling the deck” of responsibilities and redistributing tasks as needed. We do that often when I’m in a busy period at work or he’s studying for board exams. Usually, our division of roles looked like this:
- Mine: cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, planning social life/activities/vacation/holiday/celebrations
- His: dogs, dishes, vacuuming, home/car maintenance, finances
Although one list seems longer, you must also consider the time things take. For example, my husband spends over an hour walking the dogs every day and makes most of their appointments because he has a more flexible schedule.
You are both equally important.
Take care of yourself and your responsibilities.
Be independent of the other person if they are busy.
The hours really aren’t that bad, and you will have plenty of quality time.
Hailey Tharani is a high school history teacher and married to a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com