This year marks my eleventh year in a medical relationship, seventh of marriage. Over the course of this journey, I have learned a few things about the role of a support person in a medical marriage. To be in a medical marriage is both a great privilege and a difficult undertaking, but I am sure I am preaching to the choir. When I met my husband, he was an MS2 (second year medical student) and I was a brand-new pediatric nurse. For quite a time I made the money and I had more medical experience. This relationship dynamic has shifted greatly in the latter half of our marriage as I am now a stay-at-home mom to our two children while he is an ER attending at the only level one trauma center in our state. Gone are the days of my explaining vent settings, instead his wealth of knowledge constantly fills me with pride. Of course, every medical family’s division of labor looks different, but there are a few commonalities to all of them.
Firstly, though it may not be how his heart feels, I (and our children) are often second place compared to his career. I hear stories of friends whose spouses leave work for school plays or to meet a contractor, that is just not the life of medical spouses, whether or not they also work outside of the home. Carve out time to be together. I completely understand this is not an easy ask. There will always be times you are called in to the hospital away from your family or important events you have to miss. But, try really hard to set some limits around family time. A stronger home life will make you a better doctor. If you can’t be present send a quick Marco Polo from the lounge. Ask to look at pictures of missed events. Get off your phone when you do finally get some time at home.
Secondly, medical spouses are incredibly proud of you and your hard work. I often hear other medical partners gushing over great saves or difficult cases their loved ones have handled. Use that pride to connect with your partner. I know that with the constraints of HIPAA, there is only so much you can share, but including your spouse in the workings of your day-to-day life is so important. This goes both ways. While I love hearing hospital war stories it is equally important to me to be able to share my daily experiences without feeling like they pale in comparison. Of course, when I talk about my writing no one is on the verge of an aortic dissection, but the moments of our lives shared with you matter. Your reaction and attention matter.
Finally, I am sure all of you would acknowledge that your career choices, particularly if you have a family, would not be possible without your partner’s support. Recognizing moves to residencies, their career paths changing to accommodate yours, family activities attended alone and so forth go such a long way. While you may not be able to be physically present for as much of everyday life as a spouse with a different profession, there are some things you can do to strengthen your marriage. You can notice the little things – the things that happen in your life by magic as your spouse picks up the slack. You can jump in, when available without being asked so that sacred family time can be spent together instead of just getting things done. And you can do your best to take care of yourself. I know self-care and a career in medicine are not traditionally synonymous, but a healthy partner, both mentally and physically is such a blessing in a marriage.
I would be remiss if I did not comment on this year being an unprecedented year in medicine. The stress level is astronomical, especially for anyone providing frontline care during the pandemic. I am sure some of this post sounds like asking your overworked, tired souls to do just one more thing, but you will reap such reward. A healthy medical relationship, in my opinion takes more communication and patience than some others may. It isn’t a given that you’ll be available for bedtimes or birthdays. It is however, the life we chose and the rewards outweigh the struggles if both parties are committed.
Read more from Meredith on her blog motherhoodbymer