Some people will tell you that relationships during medical school are impossible. They’ll say that you don’t have enough time for romance and you should focus solely on your studies. But I disagree.
Although medical school is incredibly demanding, to say that it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship during this time is simply untrue. Many students are able to start and maintain healthy relationships during their medical training and some even end up getting engaged, married or having children during medical school.
That being said, to say it’s easy would be foolish. Medical school will challenge you physically, intellectually, and emotionally on a daily basis. It will also push you to the limits of your productivity and time management. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Here are 5 tips for healthy relationships during medical school.
- Set Boundaries
- Be Creative
- Work as a Team
Although we are referring specifically to romantic relationships in this post, many of these tips can also be applied to your relationships with friends, family, and other important people in your life. With that in mind, let’s move on to the list.
1 | Mindset
Tip number one is to maintain a positive mindset.
Many medical students believe they don’t have enough time for dating or relationships. But if this is your mentality, your relationships are doomed to fail from the start.
As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Medical school is incredibly demanding on your time. It can be easy to get caught up in the belief that any time you’re not studying, preparing for boards, or furthering your career in some way is time wasted. However, this is untrue.
When it comes to productivity and efficiency, sustainability is the name of the game.
To maintain high levels of productivity over long periods of time, you need to have balance in your life. Neglecting self-care and relationships is a surefire way to burn out and will only make you less effective over time. You need to give yourself time to decompress and unwind outside of medical school and relationships can be a great outlet to do just that.
Once you’ve decided that you’re too busy for relationships, however, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This mindset colors your perception of your relationships and influences your behavior. As a result, you don’t end up putting in the time or effort necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.
Remember, dating and relationships are supposed to be fun. They’re great opportunities for growth and self-development. Not only do you learn a lot about others, but you also learn a lot about yourself. Once you start viewing your relationships as a burden or a chore, however, you set them up for failure.
2 | Communication
Tip number two is to practice effective communication.
Poor communication is one of the most common issues that couples face, but during medical school, it becomes even more critical.
During your training, the majority of your waking hours will be spent in the classroom, in the clinic, or studying. Your schedule is often so demanding that it’s not uncommon for everything else to take a back seat–including relationships. As such, it’s crucial to communicate effectively with your partner and manage their expectations.
Unless you’re dating someone within medicine, it can be challenging for your partner to understand the amount of time and commitment it takes to become a physician. They may take your busy schedule as meaning you’re too busy for them or not making time. But we all go through phases in our lives and during this phase, your career is a top priority.
You need to be transparent and make sure your partner understands that just because you won’t always have time to spend with them doesn’t mean they aren’t important to you.
One tactic that I’ve found helpful is letting them know your level of certainty when committing to an event. During your clinical rotations in your third and fourth years of medical school, your schedule can be incredibly inconsistent. You may get called in or stay late and have to cancel plans at the last minute.
Letting your partner know how certain you are ahead of time, whether it be 90%, 50%, or even 20%, can help you manage expectations and avoid arguments.
3 | Set Boundaries
Tip number three is to set boundaries.
To your partner, it may seem like your only set obligations are in the classroom and the clinic or hospital–but ask anyone in medical school and they’ll tell you that’s far from the whole story.
It’s estimated that the average medical student spends around 3-5 hours per day studying and as much as 8-11 hours per day studying around exams. It’s important to set boundaries and let your partner know that just because you don’t physically have to be somewhere doesn’t mean that you’re available to spend time together.
If your partner is also in school, studying together from time to time can be a great way to spend time with each other; however, this will depend heavily on you and your partner. Some couples are able to study effectively together, whereas others get distracted and focus too much on stress relief during study sessions. Be honest with yourselves and set boundaries as necessary to ensure you’re able to get your work done.
In addition to study time, it is important to give yourself time to practice self-care. Focus on being honest with your partner and your needs.
Although you’re short on time, there may still be occasions when you need to decompress on your own or be alone with your thoughts. Other times it may be beneficial to have someone else there. Communicate your needs to your partner and make sure you’re on the same page.
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship. You shouldn’t try to spend every moment away from studying or the hospital with your partner. Doing so is often a recipe for disaster.
4 | Be Creative
Tip number four is to be creative with how you and your partner spend time together.
Although you shouldn’t try to combine work and play, you can still take advantage of tasks you might otherwise do alone. Sometimes routine errands such as getting groceries, going to the gym, cooking dinner, or even doing chores around the house can be fun opportunities to spend time with your partner.
If you can try to find joy in the little, everyday things with your partner, it often makes the big date nights or vacations feel that much more special.
5 | Work as a Team
Lastly, tip number five is to view your relationship as a team sport.
During medical school, it’s inevitable that problems will arise. But when they do, it’s important to remember that you and your partner are a team. Instead of viewing the conflict as a you versus your partner situation, try to change your perspective and view it as you and your partner versus the problem. This is a simple but powerful change in mindset that will allow you and your partner to work through problems more effectively.
There’s a popular quote that says, “You can either be right, or you can be happy.”
Instead of fixating on who’s right and trying to prove your point, it’s much better to focus on harmony and getting along. If you’re willing to step down and not succumb to your ego, you’ll often find it easier to smooth out points of friction and prevent them from blowing up into bigger conflicts.
It’s also important to remember that relationships won’t always be an even split. You’ll often hear people say that they should be an even 50/50 or 100/100 split; however, if you take these suggestions too literally you may find yourself in a toxic relationship.
On the one hand, if you strive for a perfect 50/50 split, you risk your relationship becoming transactional. Whenever you do something, you expect an equivalent action or behavior in return. Over time, it can become exhausting to keep tally, and trust and connection erode.
On the other hand, if you strive for 100/100, then you may end up giving too much of yourself to the relationship. Remember, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first. You should always view yourself as your number one priority in life–and your partner should do the same.
The key here is being flexible and understanding that sometimes things won’t be equal. Sometimes your partner will give more, and sometimes you’ll give more.
Maintaining an effective relationship during medical school can be challenging; however, it’s not impossible. I was in a relationship for 3 years during medical school and found it to be a net positive experience accelerating personal growth. That being said, this will vary from person to person. There are always unforeseen pros and cons that come along with relationships and dating during medical school may not be right for everyone. Only you can decide what’s best for you.
If you enjoyed this video, be sure to check out the Battle Against Burnout (Among Doctors and Medical Students).