“When you marry a doctor, you are sharing that person with medicine.”
~ My father
Relationships of all types face challenges, from communication to finances to intimacy to career choices. Relationships with people in the medical world are no exception. However, they do have their own set of unique challenges. Luckily, they also have some unique benefits! Below I will take you through some pros and cons of dating a medical student or resident.
Of course, there are many different personalities in medicine, but some challenges—and benefits—are universal.
The Pros and Cons of Dating a Medical Student or Resident
1. Pro: Caring and Empathetic
Medical school admission interviews emphasize interpersonal skills and compassion for others. It’s not just a cliché we say at interviews; we truly love helping people. It’s one of the top reasons to pursue medicine as a career. Although stereotypes suggest it’s about the money, after 6-12 years of training, and paying for medical school, not many who go into medicine for the money last.
To become an effective doctor, communication skills, empathy, and rock solid morals are required. These are all desirable traits of a significant other.
If you date a medical student or resident, they are likely to care about your feelings, about what is happening in your life, and your wellbeing. They will also care about the wellbeing of people in general since they are dedicating their life to people’s care.
2. Con: Busy With Little Spare Time
Having a busy lifestyle is truly an understatement. Whether it’s during the first 2 years of medical school when we study all day for constant exams, the second 2 years of medical school when we are constantly in the hospital and still studying for exams, or residency when we work 80 hours a week, there is very little free time.
That being said, we also learn how to manage our time effectively and prioritize the things we care about. If that is running 3 times a week or making time for dinner with friends and family, medical students and residents fit in what is important to them.
If that’s you, as a significant other, you will be prioritized, but only within the limited time we have left over. Although we try to make time for our loved ones, spending long hours together just isn’t an option for medical students or residents. Be prepared to spend lots of time alone or with other friends or family members, including during evenings and on weekends.
This can be an adjustment for some people, especially for those who clock out of work and forget about it at 5 pm every day, or those who are looking to spend quality time together and go on adventures every weekend. In addition to hours spent in the hospital, medical students have exams to study for and extracurriculars to pursue. Residents have grueling hours where they have to be alert and aware on the job, and they may be on call to come in at a moment’s notice.
What’s important is ensuring the time you do spend together is spent wisely. Ensure you’re getting quality time together instead of wasting it scrolling on your phone or arguing about what to watch on Netflix. Have a plan, even if that plan is ordering takeout or watching a movie so that your time together isn’t wasted.
3. Pro: Driven and Career-Oriented
The future career of a medical student or resident is worth looking forward to. Whichever field we choose to enter, we will work hard, and eventually, have a salary that anyone could live on comfortably.
At the end of the journey, we’ll have a solid career and paycheck to look forward to, even if it takes a while to get there. We will also be making a difference in people’s lives every day, so you won’t need to worry about us not being engaged with or fulfilled by our work.
Although it can be stressful at times, medicine is an immensely rewarding career. We survived medical school, so we can survive any challenges that life could throw at us in the future. That drive to succeed we needed to get through medical school bleeds into other aspects of our life, and yours, such as pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or building a family.
4. Con: Unpredictable Hours and Schedules
In addition to being busy, medical students often keep unpredictable hours. Entering the field of medicine requires sacrifices, and one major sacrifice is time.
We will not be able to make every birthday or wedding, and we will often be late returning home from the hospital. If a patient needs us, we will be there for them. We will try to schedule, but things never go exactly as planned.
You will need to be forgiving for these delays and may need to adjust your lifestyle and plans around the unexpected. For example, if we are stuck at the hospital overnight on a slow day, we could try to meet up for dinner in the hospital cafeteria to get some face-to-face time.
Residents may be on call, which means everything is up in the air as far as scheduling goes. If you like to stick to a plan and want to know what your week or month will look like in advance, this could be a challenge for you.
Medical students also encounter their fair share of unpredictability. If extra time is required for studying for an exam, school must take priority. When applying to residency, interview season makes it difficult to plan for anything in advance. Since we don’t know when we’ll have to schedule an interview, our schedules need to remain free and clear. This means no buying concert tickets, planning vacations, or RSVPing for that family wedding across the country.
5. Pro: Free Medical Answers and Emergency Response
Although this may be a con for the actual medical student/resident, everyone in the family is excited to have a person to field all of their medical questions. It can be nice to get the reassurance that your cold does not require a visit to your doctor or your baby’s rash is just acne.
We are also great at removing splinters and dressing minor cuts and scrapes. We are usually BLS and ACLS trained, so we’re ready to respond in case of an emergency. The peace of mind can be a real assurance, especially down the road if you choose to start a family together.
That being said, your partner’s advice should NEVER replace a medical provider beyond first aid and information sharing.
6. Con: Student Loan Debt
While our earning potential as doctors is quite good, it takes a while to get there. Most residents allocate more than they would like of their already small paycheck to pay off loans. These loans can be as much as $500,000 for students who were out of state and took out loans for both undergraduate and medical education.
This can take decades to pay off. So don’t date a student or resident thinking you’re in it for the money. We often don’t have much, and it’ll take us many years to reach a cushy salary.
Understand that this delay in reaching our salary potential could mean delaying big life purchases, such as cars, a house, or starting a family. If you’re afraid to carry debts of any kind, dating a medical student or resident may not be right for you.
7. Pro: Interesting Stories
Life in the hospital can get interesting, and it isn’t all sad stories. Medical students, especially those currently completing their rotations or residency, will have no shortage of interesting stories to share.
You and your friends can all have a laugh about that 80-year-old woman who came into the ER because she inserted a vibrator too far up her butt… a true story, by the way.
There’s also the long list of inspiring and uplifting stories of people who beat the odds with successful treatments for whatever was ailing them.
There’s way more to talk about than who’s birthday it was at the office or how much traffic there was on the way to work.
8. Con: A Lot of Medicine Talk With Other Doctors
In medical school and residency, everything is new and exciting, so we always have stories to share with our medical friends. These conversations are often, at minimum, too technical to understand, or at most, too grotesque to even want to hear for non-medical partners.
Amongst our peers who learn and see the same stuff we do, we can forget what is appropriate dinner conversation. You can try to change the subject to something more palatable, but I will apologize now—somehow it always gets back to medicine around groups of training doctors.
When the conversations are stuck on the minutia of specific medical practices and terminology, it can make a non-medical partner feel like an outsider. The solution here is to be patient but also clear to your partner if you feel uncomfortable or continually left out. They can and should bring the conversation around to something everyone can understand, at least part of the time, especially when you are meeting new friends.
9. Con: Your Goals May Be Put on Hold to Support Your Partner
Many people who are just beginning a career in medicine are also at the stage of starting a family, whether it be starting a serious relationship, getting married, or having children. Our partners may be chasing serious career goals as well. Problems arise when these career goals clash.
For example, the matching process cannot be predicted and can force an unwanted move. Some couples decide to do long distance over this time period. Others choose to relocate, and partners must find a new job. Neither decision can be made lightly, as people can resent having to leave a job they love as well as feel tremendously lonely if they choose not to move with their partner.
People are continually choosing to delay when they have children until after graduation from medical school or residency. Others make the time to go to school and have children. This is also a very personal decision. Either way, we are locked into 4 years of medical school and another 3-5 years of residency, where our schedule is not very flexible. Compromises must be made, and there just isn’t that much wiggle room within a resident’s schedule.
Is Dating/Marrying an Aspiring Physician Right for You?
This is obviously a very personal decision, but the answer depends on what you are looking for. Like I said above, we are caring, empathetic, driven, career-oriented, courageous, and full of knowledge, but we are also busy, have strict schedules, and often have massive student loan debt.
As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re considering getting into a relationship with a doctor-in-training, keep in mind that there are also some fields that have a better work-life balance, such as radiology or dermatology.
Personally, I am very glad that I scheduled time during medical school for dating. My partner was very accepting that I sometimes was late or even had to cancel dates to study. It paid off, as we got engaged on the day I graduated from medical school. I know that the challenges of being in a relationship will not get any easier as I transition into residency, but I hope we have built the stepping stones of communication and trust needed to survive it.
What challenges have you faced in a relationship with a medical student/resident? Are you a medical student/resident that has faced unique challenges with relationships? Do you have any advice for others? Please share in the comments below!
Advice for Medical School, Residency, and the Life You Lead In-Between
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