Medical school applications can raise big hairy questions about the long-term potential and trajectory of your relationship as well as the question of whether you get a say in where the applicant applies and attends medical school. For some, the timing of these questions arises in synchrony with the relationship’s natural progression that is at a time when you and your partner are beginning to discuss your long-term prospects. Other couples might feel like the conversation have been thrust upon them because of the impending decisions.
Unfortunately, all medical couples must quickly get used to the sense that medical training will dictate the schedule upon which you make big decisions.
Once the two of you have established that you see your relationship enduring, the two of you will have to decide what role you play in the medical school application process. If your relationship is not yet serious, it may feel too soon to have a say in your partner’s application decisions. If you’re married, engaged or have committed to a long-term relationship, application decisions may feel like a joint task. And indeed, for committed couples, a career in medicine is a venture best tackled as a unit because it will shape your relationship and life trajectory in many ways. Still, that is a huge mental shift, and it is normal for that to process to feel hard. This might be the first time that you face a decision of this size together.
The ability to discuss overarching questions will be an important skill to cultivate throughout your partner’s medical training. If the two of you are struggling to discuss whether you have a role and what your role will be in the application process, it can help to understand where that fear lies.
- I’m not sure we’re on the same page about where this relationship is going.
- I think we’re on the same page about our commitment, but it still seems like we’re not on the same page about my role in this part of the journey.
- My partner and I have never made a big joint decision before. The stakes feel high, and I’m afraid we’ll make a bad decision that will lead to future resentment.
- I/my partner does not share decision-making power well. I/they feel they should make this decision without my input and I/they should agree to it.
- My partner seems really stressed out by the application process, and it makes it hard to understand how they feel about my involvement in the process.
Pinpointing which of these rings true will help you address the underlying concerns and then overcome it through open communication and negotiation. What couples actually decide will depend on the couple’s preferences. Some non-applicants want a say in where the student applies, while others only want a say in the final decision once acceptances arrive. Still, others feel untethered to geography and will gladly live wherever the student needs to go. What you decide is less important than how you negotiate the process itself.
Even if the two of you decide that it’s too soon for you to have a say in the medical school application process, you can still get involved. At the beginning of application season, sit down together and ask what type of support appeals to them. You might say something like, “This process is going to be stressful, and I want to support you in any way I can. What can I do to help you? What do you need from me?”
Here are a few suggestions for how to get involved:
- Offer to listen while they vent about the process
- Help research potential schools and cities
- If you’re a writer or editor, offer to edit their personal statement
- Practice interviewing with them
- Help them blow off steam
The start of med school application season may also mark the first time that you and your partner feel stress about the same life shift for completely different but equally legitimate reasons. What I mean is, the application process will be stressful for both of you — yes, you, too! They will be worrying about getting into school, paying for school, moving for school and getting started. You may be worried about whether you’ll need to move for their schooling, how that will impact your career and schooling and what your role will be when they start school. Both sets of stressors are legitimate and deserve space to be addressed. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only one of you gets to feel stressed about medical school and its many demanding steps. It can be easy to think that because you’re not the applicant, you are not entitled to feel stress about medical training.
Guess what — you are. It will be different stress, but it’s legitimate nonetheless.
Sarah Epstein is author of the upcoming book, Love in the Time of Medical School, and blogs at DatingMed.
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