Friends, it's official. 6 months of residency is complete. (Well, technically I am a few weeks late on this celebration) I can hear the clapping from behind my computer (or the long sighs...not sure?!)
We had fireworks, toasted champagne and ate a lavish meal in order to celebrate the milestone. Okay, none of that is true...it was more of a quick conversation, "wow, we've been at this for six months!"



Sometimes (most of the time) it can almost feel reprehensible to talk about the challenges that this profession brings, especially when we are not the ones physically in the hospital. It can feel selfish and irrelevant to consider how it affects us when the SO is about to fall asleep at the wheel every evening. However, I think one of the challenges of this profession is that it ripples through many people's lives, not just the person in the white coat.

Since you hear from me all the time, I thought it would be valuable to gather input from other spouses/SO's in a similar boat. I put together 6 of the most commonly asked questions (in honor of 6 months!), then had them answer the questions honestly. All of the answers are from 10 different SO's, who I purposely didn't name. I didn't want someone to feel as if they needed to hold back because their name would be attached to a response. I should also preface, please please spare the pity party or 'doctor wife' comments.  (No one wants a pity party, but hugs or cookies are always welcome :)


Residency is a beast of many faces and it can be difficult to be transparent about the challenges that you encounter because of it. I hope this helps those who have a residency in their future, helps others understand the strains and celebrations, and continues to encourage those of us whose spouses and significant others are pursing their 'doctor dreams.'


All that being said, let's hear about they've learned over the past six months:
 


I assumed it would be difficult- but quickly learned that assumption and reality are two very different beasts.

Honestly, I expected it to be miserable. Any time I met a doctor or doctor's SO - they told me to prepare myself for the worst. I prepared myself to grin and bear it and tried to look forward to the fact that I would be able to watch all the British period pieces I wanted because he wouldn't be around to change the channel to ESPN.  I'm glad I expected the worst because it truly has made me appreciate all the time we have had together (even when he does change the channel!)


I assumed he would work a TON, but that it'd be similar to the last two years of medical school.

Long hours and no weekends off.

I expected it to be very difficult, as I had heard from others (though I really didn't have a clue as medical school seemed like a breeze)



I completely expected residency, and especially intern year, to be bad - that I'd never see him, he'd never be free on a weekend or a holiday, he'd be studying A LOT.  While it would be terrible advice to say, "expect the worst!," it actually helped that it hasn't turned out quite as bad as I feared.  





One of the hardest things for me is not being able to count on him. He can't ever guarantee that he will be able to make family get together, weddings, date nights etc. 

Constantly having to be understanding and patient.


The biggest challenge for us was the fact that he very rarely has weekends off.  With him working weekends & weird hours during the week, and me working full time 8-5 M-F, we had many months (probably at least half) during intern year in which we had NO full days off together. 


So much precious time "off" that is taken away from us because he has to spend time studying, preparing for presentations, preparing for the cases the next day, finishing up patient notes, answering pages, practicing stitching, etc. 


Balancing my normal schedule (work M-F, off on weekends) with his completely abnormal schedule (no consistency, ever).  


 I think that the biggest challenge relates to time. You want to spend as much time as possible with your husband/SO but you are fighting a losing battle with the residency scheduling gods. It's hard to not be selfish and think "why can't he just leave the hospital and come home! He's MY fiance/husband/SO!" 



The only consistency is that of inconsistency. 


The amount of nights he has had to work, a totally ridiculous number of nights and it's difficult to continually be adjusting.


Honestly, I think the hardest part for me is trying to find a way to balance our family.  I feel like my husband forgets that I am busy too. While I don't work odd and long hours, I do have a full time job, take care of our baby, and things around the house.  I think that my husband gets so absorbed in what he is doing and struggling with that he forgets that there is a life outside of residency (at least for the rest of us).  This has led to many communication breakdowns. I will also say that having a young baby during the first year of residency is not easy. I guess I always imagined that the responsibilities of parenthood would be shared. Unfortunately I am not sure this is possible during residency.  This is certainly not to say that my husband wouldn't want to do more, but he just isn't around to do it.  I know that this effects my husband as much as it does me, but in different ways. 



Because his days are so long, it's really hard to have only an hour or two (depending on the rotation) daily to spend together while he's awake.


 



I feel bad saying this when I am not the one having to get up...but getting woken up by 4 different alarms between 4:00 - 5:00 am every day! OH! and not eating dinner until 9:30 every night....and the pounds I have gained from snacking at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00...


It's all about time. You expect your time together to be limited, but I think it had a stronger affect on me than I anticipated. Especially when I wasn't working and I was home alone while he was out working all day. I realized I sometimes resented him for NOT having the time with me...and it wasn't his fault! You won't be able to easily take fun weekend trips like other couples, or get all your errands done when you want to. 


That I would now have to be the one in charge, solely. 

It's difficult to take care of 100% of our lives by myself. It can be overwhelming and frustrating to not have someone to share the responsibilities with, especially when I work too! It's hard to fight off the feelings of being taken advantage of, even though that isn't the intention.


I feel that I have had to pick up all of the general daily chores around the house.  Not that this is a huge sacrifice per se, but in keeping up with an infant and the house, I don't have as much (or often any) "me" time which is exhausting.


I expected most of the sacrifices that come with being a resident's wife, but one thing is staying in to spend time with my husband even though it's just for 10 minutes. Then he'd have to hit the books again-on a weekend! Weekends don't have the same meaning as they did prior to residency!



 
Honestly, it's so annoying to try to explain how hard he's always working and most people think you're just complaining or exaggerating.  Finding people who are in the same spot is SO helpful. For the obvious, of course, spending time and having fun together, but also the fact that you have someone who sympathies with you when things are rough, and celebrates with you when things are great, no explanations necessary!   

Get connected in church, small group, yoga classes, the gym, anything that will keep you busy. 


I would say go easy on your spouse/SO, but also go easy on yourself. It's definitely not easy to be a resident, but I don't think either one of us can fully appreciate how hard it is to be in the other person's position as well. I know that I won't ever completely "understand" what it is like to be a doctor, but I don't think he gets how hard it is to play the waiting game everyday with his schedule and have to sacrifice time with him so he can be there. Just know that you're going to have times when you are frustrated with each other for not "getting it" but always remember you are both doing the best that you can. 

Make sure that you are communicating. It's easy to live parallel lives and not involve one another in your decisions. 

Build a support system outside of just your spouse/SO so that when he's unavailable physically or emotionally you are able to cope. 

You will have days when you are frustrated, annoyed and sad knowing that he/she sees the hospital walls more than they see you. Remember to take a step back, realize that few people are that determined, talented and selfless to be caring for patients and making a difference in the world. 

Expectations: If they think they are going to maybe get out early and maybe be home at 7:00, don't expect them till 11:00...



Try to plan fun events together so you have things to look forward to, even if it's just a night out to dinner or a weekend away.  It just helps to know that you're making the most of your time together.   
 
Find a group of friends who will not talk about medicine ALL THE TIME.  You need people to talk to who don't spend all their time in a hospital because it is a strange world of it's own that is climate controlled and devoid of all knowledge of current events. (If it wasn't for me my husband would not know about Gangnam Style or the debt ceiling!) My salvation has been the amazing group of girlfriends I have made who are all SOs of doctors.  We get each other in a way that no one else can understand unless they too have been in a relationship with a doctor.  My mom, sister, and best friend are amazing but they will never understand. You need people who understand your situation so get out there and try to connect with the SOs of other doctors.  

  

 
 

Keep encouraging him and be his help-mate; through that it will feel like you are involved. Try to bless your spouse with doing little things for him, that goes a long way. 

Listen to them. Try to just be understanding rather than offering solutions to their problems. Also, try to be available when they are off so that you can plan fun things to do together.



I think that staying busy myself and having a great support system of friends keeps me happy, and in turn, helps me support my spouse.

Try to take an interest in his day. Hearing the funny stories and tough experiences makes his work life a little less amorphous for me. It also makes it easier to laugh with him or hug him even when I'm feeling irritated with this life. 

Be flexible!


When you ask how their day was, really listen to what they have to say. Just remind them that you are always there and are the constant shoulder to lean on. He constantly tells me how grateful he is when I just sit and listen. 

Finding a balance is a must! Having good friends is much needed for your sanity. Having friends you can relate with, share stories and remind you that are you are not alone. By finding that balance, you'll have a more positive perspective on your SO's career choice.


A homecooked meal goes a long way after a long day ;)


I'm not really sure how to support him most of the time.  I guess I just listen and try my best to remember that he is going through  a stressful transition.  I also am there to bring him back to reality when he starts to become to enveloped in the "world of residency." 




I find myself constantly thinking that the residency program "abuses" them with their time. I have a very hard time believing that anyone is making clear and smart decisions with working a 90+ work week. I feel frustrated as we, the spouses, are just silently screaming, and wondering, "how is this OK"?
 

When people tell you "It will all pay off eventually"  !!!UGH!!!!
  

My stresses and work problems seem so minuscule to what they deal with every single day, so I find myself holding back when I feel the need to vent about something that is stressing me out.    


The feeling that he thinks my life is soooo much easier than his. I have this theory that doctors get together in the lounge or on-call room and spend all their down time discussing how they have it harder than anyone else. I can never say I'm tired because I inevitably get an eye roll and a "Oh really.  And what time did you wake up this morning?  Because I woke up at [insert some ungodly time]."  Sometimes I want to scream, "Yes, I know that you work 80+ hours a week but news flash I work too and then I have to come home and clean, cook, wash laundry, shop for groceries, pay the bills . . .!!!!!!!!"  The general feeling of not being appreciated is toxic and you have to calmly explain this to your SO and hope that he/she only rarely mentions how many hours they worked that week.


Every conversation is about the hospital, patients, health care, nurses, blah blah blah.  It gets redundant and I generally have no idea what he is really talking about.


Hands down, your time is not your own. (Are you noticing a central theme??) You never know what the schedule is going to be like and half the time you don't find out until the last minute. I am envious of couples who work regular 40 (heck, I'd settle for even 50!) hour weeks and get entire weekends to themselves. For example, I wish we would be able to take our honeymoon right after our wedding. Unfortunately, that's just not our reality right now. It is a constant source of frustration. At a certain point you just have to realize it is what it is and just be sure to make the most of the time you do get. It helps me to remember that residency isn't forever. Yes, there is fellowship after this, but ONE DAY (!!!) he will be an attending and maybe the hours will get a tiny bit better (maybe?) It at least makes me FEEL better to think about that. 

Seeing them sleep so little, world so long, fall sleep any chance they get...you wonder why they are making these poor interns work so long!!



The dirty scrubs, shoes and white coats in the house! (Promise, I did not write that!)



* I should also make mention that not ever commentor is from the UM system, so this has no connection with UM being a crazy program...it's a universal problem ;) *



35 Comments

  1. great post, and so thorough... you should consider making it a page on it's own! Congratulations on 6+ months! It went by fast didn't it?

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    1. Yes! It really did go by quickly...hoping the next few years feels like that too ;)

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  2. Thank you so much for getting this post together. Great information for what to look forward/expect in the upcoming years. And...I already hate the statement "It will all pay off in the end..."

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    1. Elizabeth, I know- that statement makes me cringe! So many assumptions... ;)

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  3. I absolutely love this, thanks for sharing! Woopppeeeee 2.5 more years till residency - I'm going to soak up every second with him now.

    And I totally agree with Elizabeth - I hate the "at least he'll be making money after all this" nonsense! Money does not buy happiness, or we wouldn't be able to afford a grin right now.

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    1. Definitely soak up every minute now. Take time to go on trips together, weekend getaways or do something you've always wanted to. Time is way more precious now (I miss how easy medical school felt!)

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  4. Thank you so much for this! My husband is MS4- so we'll be here in a year. I'm kind of freaking out but medical school has been easier than I planned on so hoping we can just push through residency. It helps to hear from people who have survived. :)

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    1. Hi Amy! Enjoy these last few months. Match day is coming up for you two - SO exciting!!! Make sure you do something special before he starts (go on a trip or turn off your phones for a week. Well worth it!)

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  5. This turned out great Meredith! I'm blogging about it tomorrow :)

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  6. I love love LOVE this post. We'll be in residency before we know it, and I'm trying to have as realistic of expectations as possible (or perhaps no expectations at all??). This was great to gain some insight - thanks for taking the time to put it together!

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    1. What are you doing up at 3:45 am?! lol
      It's healthy to have realistic expectations for yourself and him. I've learned to just take things day by day and try not to get overwhelmed by looking into the future. (And know you are never alone, there's always people who will support you!)

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  7. It will pay off in the end, I promise! We are done with residency in 5 months, and 4 days (but whose counting), and there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel!

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    1. Thanks Sunny, I appreciate the encouragement :) Always a light at the end of the tunnel. Congratulations with being done this year!!!

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  8. AMAZING post! We'll be there sort of soon {halfway through MS3} and it's great to have some insight rather than just hearing "PGY1 is *the worst!"

    I already just repeat "it will all be worth it in the end" to people...just so I don't have to hear it from them first! :D

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    1. Definitely enjoy 4th year, it's a great break between MS3 and Intern year! (Did I read that you just got engaged?!! CONGRATS!!!)

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  9. Love this post! Y just finished his 6 months too... definitely going to share this!

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  10. Found you through Medicine: A Love Story and just had to say hi, because I'm also from Michigan (yay!) and my husband just finished 2 yrs + 6 months (halfway!) of ENT residency in Cincinnati... I loved reading all these answers and can totally relate to all. I always tell people that expecting the worst (the phrase "your time is not your own" has crossed my lips many times too) can actually kinda work out because in the end you'll probably find it's not THAT bad. There definitely are hard parts and "I hate residency" moments, but it really does go fast, and you should make the most of living a great life in the meantime, with your own interests, and with your spouse whenever there's a free day!

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    1. Hi Anne! So glad you left a comment so I could find your fun blog - so excited to follow :)! So true that regardless, there is always life to enjoy!

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  11. Great post! It really is amazing how all Dr. wives seem to have such similar experiences. As I read through all the responses, I kept thinking, "YES! That's exactly how I feel!" It's so important to have other Dr. wives or SO's who understand.

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  12. I just stumbled across your website tonight and will definitely be a reader! My boyfriend is 31 and in his first year of med school...we are already having a difficult time deciding when to plan a wedding, etc. It is SO HELPFUL to know that there are other people out there feeling the same way I do about so many different aspects of medical school and residency.

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    1. Hi Kim, definitely know that you'll never be alone going through this process. We had a hard time planning our wedding as well- we ended up getting married a week after my husband took his step 1 boards, between 2nd and 3rd year! It worked out well since they typically get a larger chunk of time off to study for the boards. Looking forward to hearing how you two decide :)

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  13. Hey! New follower here and fellow residency wife. My husband is a PGY2 Surgery Resident.
    Anyway, I loved this post. It's so interesting to hear everyone's different perspectives on residency. During interviews a few years ago I had bought the book "Surviving Residency: A Medical Spouse Guide to Embracing the Training Years." It had a lot of good advice in it for how to handle long weekends and call nights, but it actually made residency off to be so much worse than it really is. However, I know some wives that would disagree with me. I just think it's all about looking at he positive, being flexible, and making sure that you don't put guilt on your husband because they have to do something for their job. Anyway, once again - loved these questions! Would it be cool if I copied them and answered them on my blog? Thanks! :o)

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    1. Hi Kelly Jo! First of all, your new baby is beautiful!!! Congratulations!!! Please feel free to share this on your blog and answer the questions, would love to hear your answers :)

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  14. hi, i'm not the wife of a resident but my boyfriend just started residency a couple weeks ago and i could relate to just about everything you wrote. thanks for this post.

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    1. Hi! Glad you found it helpful :) Best of luck in the upcoming years!

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  15. Meredith, I've become a bobblehead shaking my head in agreement to what you've shared. And laughed quite a bit too. Thank you! I've been taken from my big city and plopped into rural nightmare. No support system, no friends, no city amenities to rely on because everyone who lives here is a zombie, or maybe a zombie in training. I'll visit your blog frequently, if only for the laughs and "sing it sistah" smiles. My spouse is in the last year, although we're heading into a fellowship afterward. Double the money, a fraction of the hours (so I've been told - or maybe warned) and international travel. We'll see.
    Until we kvetch again,
    Ping Pong

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  16. "Never in my life have I seen magic work so fast. I ordered a love spells from drstanleyspelltemple@hotmail.com because my man was acting like he didn't want to be with me anymore and spending less time with me before we broke up and i ask Dr. Stanley to cast a love spell on him to make him love me again and come back to me which he did and in the next 24hours after the spell was cast my man came to my house to beg for forgiveness and ask me to accept him back. Thank you Dr. for your help...Sherrie

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  17. My name is John Sheri i'm from California i have been married for 4years and i have a break up with my husband 3months ago and i was worried and so confuse because i love him so much. i was really going too depressed and a friend directed me to this spell caster Dr. Laco and i made all my problems known to him and he told me not to worry that he was going to make my husband to come back to me and in just 48hours i receive a call from my husband and he was appealing that i should come back to the house. i have never in my life believe in spell and but now it have just helped me and i am now so happy. All Thanks to him and if you also want to have your Husband back to yourself here !! his email Address lacopowerfulspellcaster@yahoo.com i am so happy to testify of your work and kindness

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  18. I am so grateful to have found this tonight. My husband is only 3 weeks in, and already I feel like this is way worse than I anticipated. It was wonderful to hear other SO talk about their frustrations and fears, while knowing I'm not alone in my thoughts. THANK YOU!!

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  19. I just found your site and it this post is so helpful! My husband is in his 4th year of medical school and we are starting the residency application process now (all advice welcome!)
    xx Lexi, Glitter, Inc.

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  20. This post was wonderful! I'm so glad I've found your blog. My husband is up to his eyeballs in residency interview scheduling right now and I've been wondering how the next few (ok, lets be honest, 7 is a lot more than a "few") years are going to play out. This gave me so much insight, and for that I am grateful!

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  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  22. Thank you!!!!!!!!! My boyfriend is on the home stretch of residency and is studying (VERY INTENSELY, and understandably so) for boards. I've gone from being understanding and patient to resentful and feeling neglected...It's crazy to observe how your own mind works when you're just being the partner in this situation! But one thing I've noticed for sure is that if I start to seem like I can't handle it, he feels very guilty and starts shutting down b/c he thinks I'm going to bail on him. I've been doing my best lately to make the most of the time apart by spending time with my girlfriends and taking some online classes for my own career, and I make an effort to send him little inspirational or funny messages here and there. So glad I found this so I don't feel so crazy or alone in this!!

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  23. we are just entering our 4th year after a year off and having a really hard time readjusting. I'd gotten so used to having him back and am feeling so sad and resentful of how little he contributes to our home now. I miss his real self and am struggling to re-adapt to this tired, burned out, no energy left for anything except food and sleep self. He is having a hard time back too and it feels like he expects me to keep both of our boats afloat and keep the house running and do it all with a smile....he can't understand that this is hard for me too, and seems genuinely puzzled that his total lack of energy and presence in our home could be a drain or could be difficult for me.... has anyone else had this struggle?

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  24. Any advice on the three months before boards?

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