I came into medical school as a bachelor who was extremely pessimistic about any chance at love during those next 4 years. Mind you, this was the pre-Grey’s Anatomy years. I was well aware that I’d soon be buried in books and I knew I had to be on my A game from day 1. Furthermore, I was haunted by that third-year medical student I met on the interview trail. She was really struggling through medical school and her husband had just filed for divorce. As you may guess, she didn’t have many pleasant words of advice for me.
So, is dating possible in medical school? Can marriages work out through these years of rigorous training? Do doctors have a higher divorce rate than others? Allow me to share my thoughts and data on the subject.
I don’t need to tell you that medical school, residency and fellowship are extremely taxing. Invariably, those closest to you will be affected and none more than your significant other. There will be sleepless nights, emotion-filled weeks, and moments you don’t feel like being bothered. Your schedules will be determined for you and this makes it very tough to make it to that wedding you hoped to attend or keep dinner plans. Here are three areas I recommend matriculants consider when trying to navigate medical school relationships.
I always noticed incoming medical students (primarily women) were quick to ask the upperclassmen questions pertaining to their schedules. Many were already in relationships and wanted to know their rotation schedules for 3rd and 4th year. The idea was to find that magic gap to schedule (I mean plan) their wedding and/or date of conception. One particular group of friends even spaced out their dates so they could attend each other’s weddings and this actually came to fruition. I always wondered if their significant others were aware of their planned-out path, years in advance. I completely respect this preparation and wholeheartedly endorse it. In order for a relationship to be successful while in medical school and beyond, one must prioritize and make time for things that matter. If you are serious about the one you are with, you must recognize there are limited periods to get things done. Time is not on your side while in medical school.
SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS
Should one date another medical student or someone outside of medicine? I can’t answer that one for you but I believe there is something that trumps that. I truly think both options can work out and I have seen both work out only when the partner understands what medical school entails. This means it is critical that you give your significant other (whether this is your spouse or someone you are dating) an idea of what is to come both short term and long term. Don’t assume they will understand because even you have no real clue. They must understand that you will most likely miss very important events but that you are doing this for the both of you and for your future. It will all be worth it at the end. Clear this up sooner than later and encourage them to be there for you or leave (as harsh as that is). Being with another physician or someone in healthcare has this as a huge perk but then again it is sometimes nice to get away from medicine or to be with someone who has more time on their hands. I must also add that Match Day can make a huge dent in a relationship. This is the day when graduating or already graduated medical students across the country find out where they will go for residency. Many students plan this around their significant other. I remember watching one of my closest friend on that day go through a very bitter sweet moment. He matched into orthopedics which is very competitive but so we were all celebrating however this meant he would have to be 800 miles away from his newly proposed to fiancé who was just a second year med student.
DON’T FORCE IT
Many medical students somehow find love (or “like”) through their medical school and a number of them make the mistake of forcing a relationship they really had no business being in in the first place. Some waste precious years dating someone without truly addressing major issues like one person wants to have children and the other doesn’t. Some allow their relationship to cause them to struggle through medical school. There is no better test on a relationship than medical school. You will learn quickly if that person will be there when you need them and just as importantly, whether you find them worth it enough to be there for them. Long distance relationships are doable only with a lot of effort. If there are any questions whatsoever, think really deeply if this who you want to spend the rest of your life with. Don’t ever feel rushed. These decisions are critical. For those entering medical school already married, my recommendation would be to keep family first. Consider seeking a counselor if needed sooner than later. One of my classmates got divorced during medical school only to remarry that same partner 2 years later. I can almost promise you that whoever can put up with you through medical training will be by your side during future storms. I can vouch for that.
As with any relationship, COMMUNICATION is KEY.
So, can one find or keep love in medical school and beyond? Great news… It can definitely be done! In fact, although many people assume medical doctors have a higher rate of divorce than others, this does not appear to be true according to a recent study published in BMJ(1). After surveying thousands of professionals, it was discovered that physicians actually had a lower probability of ever being divorced than dentists, nurses, healthcare executives, lawyers, and non-healthcare professionals (24% compared to 25%, 33%, 31%, 27%, and 35% respectively). The only group surveyed with lower probability of being divorced were pharmacists (23%). The study did show that female physicians were 1.5 times more likely to be divorced than male physicians of a similar age and those who worked more hours where most likely to have been divorced. On the contrary, males working more hours were less likely to have been divorced.
So back to that bachelor, incoming medical student pessimistic about med school love. I came in focused and not searching for love. I dated another medical student for a few years and she and I are still friends till this day. I finally found true love during residency, did the long-distance thing for a period and got married a few years later. Best decision of my life!
1. D Ly, S Seabury, A Jena. Divorce among physicians and other healthcare professionals in the United States: analysis of census survey data. BMJ. 2015; 350
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