I shared months ago that the next Residency Forum would be a discussion of careers, specifically confronting the question, "Can a doctor's wife have a career?"


Needless to say, this post could go on for days. I can already feel the blood racing through my veins in anticipation for the conversations to follow. Not because I'm super passionate or opinionated about it, but because it's personal and this blog hasn't canvased this topic before. (I'll be honest, my stomach is churning a bit.) Careers, marriage, children, life styles, schooling  - these are all very personal choices. Some are based on timing, finances, life changes, personal preference, beliefs or unexpected circumstances. No right or wrong, not one better than another. The ever-present rebuttal of, "what about..." keeps the topic an ongoing conversation, which leads me to this forum.
I think it deserves to be spoken about in an open way.
 
So, can a doctor's wife have a career?
Obviously, the answer is YES, of course!!
And here comes the counterclaim: I'd confidently say that what career and the cost involved is the what this question quickly leads to.

I'll just throw this out there -I have no idea how to start this discussion. There's just too much to discuss, and the fear of leaving something or someone out makes me cautious to continue. That being said, consider the following paragraphs a continuum of babbling thoughts as I consider the weight of my career choices and how that relates to our marriage and future goals.

To give you a bit of perspective of where I am coming from and the struggles I have with this topic, let me peel back the onion a bit. For those who are new around here, here's a quick snapshot:
We've been married for three and half years and Kyle is a second year resident in ENT. I work full-time as a program manager and run a photography business. We don't have any children, except if you consider our pup Maizy (which, let's be honest, she's pretty much human.) My take on the subject is solely from what I've experienced and observed from where we are now. (i.e. 10 years down the line my take on this may be vastly different.)

I will be straightforward: the strain of working outside the home and having a husband in residency is palpable. Very palpable. (I would imagine working in the home is no different)

I grew up with hardworking parents, so the idea of not working (outside of the home) never crossed my mind. In the last year, my thoughts have begun to change on this subject. Thank the medical world for that one. Simply put, the reason it works for us right now is 1)I have a relatively flexible job. I can leave to meet the cable guy or pick up the car from the shop or go in late because we lost power. All of those examples may seem silly, but they are all inconvenient and time consuming, and let's face it - someone has to take care of business.  2) I enjoy working. 3) My career keeps me challenged and relevant. 4) We only have us two to take care of. My work is fully aware that my job needs to be flexible, and although I don't think that my work should suffer as a result of my spouse's job, sometimes that is unavoidable. It's no one's direct fault, just a product of the system.

I really love both of my careers and take pride in the work I get to do. I also take pride in the work that Kyle gets to do. But, if my day job required me to work 60+ hours a week, our lives would look much different. We would most likely be hiring everything out (including simple things like mowing the lawn), our friendships would be scarce, time with our family limited and our relationship would show the cracks of two strained individuals. Our "making a life," would be different than being able to live it. It's not hard to see glimpses of that now as there are many times that juggling it all seems impossible.

My mind has been mulling over all of these "what about..." thoughts for quite some time. What am I willing to sacrifice to have a career outside of the home? At what cost? What gives?
Truth is, it would look different if my husband had a 8-5 job. He doesn't. It would be ignorant of me to think that I can do it all. I can't.
At the end of the day, our priorities in life shouldn't be a successful career, but successful careers (however one would define that) should be the byproduct of having the right priorities. 

When we said "I Do," I was accepting everything of him and he of me. Including our career aspirations. We made a decision to live our lives together, fully knowing that there would be many compromises along the way. I want to be clear that this discussion isn't to come down on husbands for working hard and often. Kyle is providing for our family and for that, I'm thankful and humbled by his incredible work ethic. Yes, my career may currently be in the back seat relative to his, but when I look at the things that matter in life, I can hardly complain about that temporary compromise.



Hearing other people's perspectives, life experiences and decisions certainly makes this conversation, ah, a conversation. Especially when it comes to a topic so personal and sensitive. If you're interested in writing about your perspective on the issue, please let me know.

In the mean time,
What are your thoughts?
Do you find that your husband's career has affected yours?
Have you found that your career has taken a backseat to your husband's medical aspirations?

Looking forward to the conversations to come :)



25 Comments

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  2. like you said... I think it depends on the situation. For us, I was burned out on the job I had before residency started and coincidentally I ended up pregnant before we moved. I also don't have any career goals that I feel like I am sacrificing. I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so the timing while a bit weird given that it is first year of residency, couldn't have been better. If I wasn't pregnant I probably would be in a meaningless part-time retail job that was really just to get me out of the house. Also, having just bought a house, I enjoy having the free time to fix it up and maintain some sense of order in it (not that it is clean...but it could be worse ha!). The flip side is that we are a young couple with a mortgage living on a single resident's salary... so I do miss the idea of having the extra income that could go towards getting the house just how I want it or the ability to take vacations when he has time away from work... While I have time to do things though I am now in my third trimester and those dreams of having everything put together are seeming less important now that our funds are depleted for decorating and I am just plain tired. What energy I do have is currently spent trying to figure out the last bits of the nursery before we welcome the new member of our family to this home that we have created in the past 2 months.

    I couldn't see myself trying to have a career during this time... but major kuddos to those of you who can. This life isn't easy and the alone time really sucks, so I definitely do miss having that constant source of some form of a social life that having a job provides. Just means I have to try harder and accept any and all invitations for church gatherings and other resident wife get-togethers.

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    1. Hillary, being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job of all, and certainly a career in and of itself. It's great that you are able to do that!
      And yes, accept all invitations- playdates, get togethers and random coffee dates. There are a lot of others that are in your exact position who also would love to have that time with friends, so you're in a good place :) Looking forward to "meeting" your new addition!!

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  3. I'm so glad you brought up this topic! I feel very similar to you. Our careers definitely have to take a bit of a backseat, but I love being able to be a support for my husband. I don't feel resentful about it, but maybe I would if I was more career-oriented. It was fun to be in grad school while he was in residency because I felt like we were both in training at the same time. I want to have a job after fellowship, but I look forward to cutting back a lot when we have kids! I think the important thing is to maintain some sort of identity other than being a "doctor's spouse," but that doesn't necessarily have to come from your career.

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    1. Totally agree (with Amber below as well!) that having an identity outside of being a "doctors wife" is extremely important, regardless of what career you choose. The title of this post was purposefully facetious regarding its simplicity, hoping that exact conversation would begin too :)
      What a great feeling to know that residency is behind you two!!

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  4. Well! I usually have A LOT to say on the subject (as evidenced by having to break this post up into two sections)!!!! Being married to a resident SUCKS. Maybe once my husband gets to be a "real grown up" doctor after residency, things will be different. I think it is important to distinguish between the two times in a relationship. Residency is a whole different ball of wax entirely. A smelly, black, slimy ball that rolls around in your life until it comes flying out to whack you in the face when you least expect it.

    One thing we need to get straight right now- you will ALWAYS live in the shadow of your husband’s career (unless, of course, you are a physician yourself. Or a movie star. Even then, you will most likely STILL be the one who has to pick up milk on your way home from work). I had a really REALLY hard time with this concept and still bristle when I think about it. Even if you don’t have children, you will be the one who will do the majority of housework, errands, bills and other life stuff. Then you will have the distinct pleasure of the “I’m exhausted from being at work all day and/or taking care of (house, kids, insertanythingyouwanthere) but my husband is MORE tired because he was on-call last night so I’m going to let him sleep in. Again.” scenario. * tugging on big girl panties*

    After our second son was born I attempted the stay-at-home thing. I had visions of a clean home, adorable hair, size 6 (okay, 8. Frick, maybe 10.) capris and wedges at playgroup, and Starbucks. Lots of Starbucks. Alas, it was not my cup of tea (I discovered I prefer wine). In my hope of attaining the vision in my head of domesticity I lost myself, and bad. Do I think my life would be easier if I didn’t have a career? I don’t know. My house might be cleaner but my sanity would definitely be messier.

    The answer to the question of ‘Can a Doctor’s Wife Have a Career?’ is not linear. I still struggle with the label of ‘doctor’s wife’. I don’t like it. It takes away my identity and immediately associates me with my husbands’ career (I just don’t want to be known as some vestigial appendage of my husband). Hell, it even takes away HIS identity. It carries so much social weight and I hate the person people assume I am once they hear I am married to a surgeon- “Ooooo, how glamorous!!” No, I don’t shop at Saks. No, I don’t have a four carat diamond ring (or three, or two, or one for that matter). No, I don’t own any Gucci, Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Jimmy Choo, or anything else that is ridiculously expensive. In fact, I shop at Target, my legs are rarely freshly shorn and I have chipped nail polish that I keep.meaning.to.take off. And did I mention the snot on my pants? Always the snot. Granted, we have three kids. Sooooo, yeah.

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    1. Amber, I can't say I disagree with any of your comments. I loved reading this!
      I also have had a VERY hard time feeling like I couldn't just stand on my own two feet and be respected for my career, since my husband's is more intense/respected/stressful/etc. Most people have an extremely skewed view of this "luxurious" life that residency offers us; and it's a view that tends to demean the spouse.
      Having your own identity is essential no matter what your situation is in life, but continually being reduced to just a "doctor's wife," makes me cringe. The simplicity of the title of this post was purposeful (as I mentioned above to Chrissie), as I wanted to draw out that conversation too. Agree, it's not linear and not meant to be (in this context).

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  5. Part Duex:

    To speak to the ‘what type of career’ you mentioned, I have found a career that I am incredibly passionate about. I save lives too, just not the ‘blood up to your elbows’ type. I find this very fulfilling and it helps me find identity. And this leads to another point- find yo-self dammit! Do something you love or If you choose to be a stay-at-home wife/mom (<-another term I hate. I prefer Manager of the Universe) this is still really important. Yes, you are a wife and possibly a mother but you are also YOU. Don’t forget that. Discover things about yourself or things that you are good at that DON’T rely on your identity as a ‘doctor’s wife’. I’m really good at random games like chicken toss and bocce. Who knew? The point here is that regardless if you decide that career or no career works for you, it’s only a point in time, and things WILL change eventually. Be flexible and resilient. If you are not naturally this way, you better find yourself some Xanax STAT.

    Also, we always found that cost was a non-issue for us (this isn’t the case for everyone). Yes, we have been paying $25,000 per year for childcare for the past two years but the alternative (me staying at home) was absolutely not an option (for the reasons stated above. Can anyone say ca-RAZY!!??). I didn’t want to risk the void again and I didn’t want to lose traction in my career. These might sound like selfish reasons to others, but it works really well for us.

    I’m really conflicted about the idea of doctors being a good provider and I know that sounds really mean. I think medical spouses talk a lot about this. By nature, being a physician is a dichotomous profession (I won’t call it selfish though I want to) - you dedicate yourself to your patient at the sacrifice of your family. Is it any wonder the divorce rate is so high? I know my husband loves (or will eventually) what he does but he also does it at the expense of our family. We both know this and accept it. But, like any good crotch punch, it still hurts at times. Does he want to see his son play varsity football tonight? Absolutely. Will he? Probably not. Was he there for our kindergartener on his first day of school? Nope. First steps? Nuh-uh. These are milestones you will most likely experience by yourself, regardless if you have a career or not. So, grab your big girl panties, some Kleenex, a big-ass bottle (or box) of wine, some besties, and get to work-whatever that may look like!!


    Xoxo- cause you gonna need it, gurl.

    Amber

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    1. Coming back from Part 2 :)

      Photography has given me the outlet I need, and although I still work full time and maintain a photography business, it's worth it to me to have MY things that I love, completely separate from my husbands (I suppose this goes for anyone in any career!) Although I may be under his "shadow," that's certainly not WHO I am, just a part.

      It sounds like you tried something, realized it didn't work, and then made the necessary changes that you thought were best for you and your family. Although some may think it to be selfish, I would assume you are able to be a better mother and wife because you are fulfilled in other areas too. I'd say that's just caring for yourself and your family.

      The last paragraph carries a lot of weight, but I so (SO) appreciate the honesty behind it. To step back and look at the time the hospital gets compared to families, it's agonizing and you *hope* it won't always be that way, that this is a just a few years of temporary insanity. Good punch in the crotch indeed.

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  6. Meredith- thanks for this post! Amber- I loved reading your comment. My husband = gen surgery intern. No kids yet, and my biggest hesitation is the frustration I will feel that in most cases, his patients and surgeries will come before family. I'm a grad student in a research lab working with 4 other men. It pains me when I see them leave early on any given day for a family picnic, soccer game, doctor's appt, or happy hour date. In my head I think- those wives are weak sauce compared to physicians' spouses...then I proceed to feel guilty about that thought. It's great to know others struggle with this concept as well. Thank you also for mentioning "finding yourself". I know no matter what career path I choose down the road I will always be known as Dr. So & So's wife. It's not a competition- and the most important thing is to be personally satisfied- but it is also true we either have to sacrifice a bit in work time or come up with the $$ to hire out "life things". I enjoy having a few friends that don't know my husband, and I will try to avoid talking about his career for the most part. It's liberating and nice to shed the "label" at times.

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    1. Hi Rebecca!

      It is liberating to shed the "label" and all of the perceptions that come along with it. I love just being Kyle's wife, who happens to be a doctor, not the other way around.
      At my work, I see both the men who are extremely involved (agreed, sometimes I feel that pinch of jealously too!) and also those that seem as though their marriages are struggling due partly to the intense schedules.
      I look at them (they are years ahead of us) and think, "wow, I don't want that for us," and it makes me want to try harder and fight for our marriage even more.
      You're certainly not the only one who struggles with this, glad we can chat about it!

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  7. Every couple is different so I don't know if there is one right answer. For me and my family the answer is no career, right now. I know my personality, I know that I couldn't manage our household, four kids, a career that I wanted to nourish and pursue, and maintain a healthy relationship with anybody. A part-time job for fun maybe. A career no. But that is me. I know other people that handle it better than I would and it works for them. People are different. Be flexible! Don't say "never" to a career or something else that may come along that doesn't look like a career. Be open to the possibility that you can choose what works for you when it becomes necessary. And recognize that your attitudes and feelings will likely change and change again.

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    1. There isn't a right answer, just people's experiences and insight that may help other's along the way.

      Thanks for the reassurance that I'm not the only who who changes feelings about this all the time! It's nice to know that is 'normal.'

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  8. This doesn't really apply to me since Mori dropped out of medicine, but if he had become a doctor I could not have maintained a solid successful career in public accounting while juggling the responsibilities of a family. I guess it's personal preference but I would have to hire two people to watch my future kids for 6 months out of the year (unless I can find one willing to work 60+ hours!) and that is not the life I want to live.

    Now that Mori is going to be an engineer, who knows where my career will take me? Do I want to close myself off from the world for half the year? NO! Time will tell which path I choose to take.

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    1. Mori officially decided? What a HUGE decision! How are you feeling? Most likely every emotion.
      It's true, time will tell :)

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  9. I Love Amber's humour!

    I agree that it really depends on the personality of the woman and timing of what is going on in life for them at that moment. I truly believe that we need to find our own identities and pursue what will make US happy. Through my husband's residency I used to feel sorry for myself and blamed my husband for "holding me back" but I had an aha moment and realized I was using him as an excuse and stopped my pity party and realized that I could follow my own dreams and finish my own education while he was doing his. The reality is that it doesn't matter what we do being a physician will always "trump" our chosen careers. That is okay and understandable and shouldn't be a reason to stay in the shadow of our husband. Whatever we choose to do we should be proud of.

    On the whole Dr Wives comments....I have never referred to myself as a Dr's wife, but others have. I have mixed feelings about it because I think for the most part it sounds derogatory. There are other names (more P.C) to "call us" but really it is all just semantics. The other side is by marriage partner default it is who we are - just as one can refer to themselves as an army wife, etc.

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    1. Hi Sally!
      You pinpointed the reason I sway back and forth about "doctors wife," since my husband is a doctor, which would then make me someone married to a doctor, thus 'doctors wife.' lol
      The problem is the connotations associated with it, that's where the cringe factor comes into play and makes that terminology almost degrading.

      It can be hard to "stand on your own two feet," when that association is always drawn too. Being able to be independent and strong no matter what you choose are your "career" is the important part (I'd say that for any woman in any relationship though). It can be very easy to fall into the pity party though, thanks for sharing :)

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  10. I just happened to stumble across your blog today, and I'm so glad I did. This is something that has been on my mind since my husband began residency in July. I'm also a "mitten wife" :) (Go BLUE! by the way...) I think part of my recent struggle is that I don't have friends that are married to physicians, and it's difficult for those not in our shoes to understand the complexities of this life. I'm an attorney, and I absolutely love what I do. But I value the work my husband does so much more than the work I do. Nobody dies if I don't show up for work! The selflessness and sacrifice involved in being a physician is truly an incredible thing to witness and be a part of. Ultimately, if anybody's career has to give, I want it to be mine. I wouldn't want to take him away from his patients because he's an amazing doctor. I consider it my privilege to be able to share this wonderful person, who chose to spend his life with me, with the rest of the world. Sappy, but true. What a guy :)

    For a while I felt like all of these thoughts made me a "bad" modern woman - and sometimes I still do. After all, I am a force to contend with in my own right! I'm talented. I'm smart. I'm driven. I'm independent. (It's not easy for me to make these observations of myself, but I've forced myself to finally recognize these things.) The driven, competitive side of me wants to want the most competitive job there is. But the rational side of me just wants to be happy long term. It's easy to be happy right now - we're both busy, we both love what we do, we both make time for one another, and there's only two of us. I know children will be a game changer, and I just hope that when that season of life rolls around, we will be able to strike a balance that makes us all happy. After all, what's the point of any of it - careers, children, marriage - if we can't keep the happiness? As spouses of physicians, I think we know all too well the fragility of life - it's simply too short to be bogged down by things that detract from happiness. At this point, I've reached the conclusion that that's my only goal for our future - just to keep the happiness, whatever the cost. - Amanda

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    1. Hi Amanda!
      I'm really glad you commented, I actually got in a conversation with a coworker today and brought up your comments. I love hearing different people's perspectives! Being married to a physician really is an interesting thing to be a part of, both for good and more difficult reasons - but I really appreciate how you look at it from a much bigger picture!!
      I can completely commiserate on the "bad woman" mentality, as everything around us tell us that (no matter what profession your spouse is in). It's hard when as the wife we're as driven and competitive too! But, I agree again, at the end of the day my career isn't (and shouldn't be) where my happiness is derived from...and I'd rather the happy home than the successful career (if that choice must be made, at least temporarily).

      GO BLUE ;)

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  11. Ok, Meredith, you've opened a HUGE can of worms, but let's try to be real here because this is a GREAT topic. I worked full-time (more than 40 hour/week) for as long as I could. It was incredibly frustrating and caused many arguments between me and Doc H. I never hired a nanny--we were broke-- and I never could rely on him. If anyone had to cancel an business dinner for a sick kid, it was me. Even thought I was bringing in some good bucks, it was never enough to trump his paycheck (one he became an attending). We needed his whole paycheck to cover our debt. Eventually, you pay off the debt, you start accruing STUFF. He receives much more vacation time and education time then you do (unless you're a doctor) and he wants you to travel with him. You buy timeshares and a second home. He wants to go there with you. You are now torn between spending time building a career or maintaining your relationship. You find yourself between a rock and a hard place. Eventually, I decided to come home. Our relationship is better than ever. I have the flexibility to travel with him. I can take care of everything from taxes and car repairs, to laundry and dinner. I am home for our kids during their teen years when they really need guidance.
    Do I miss working? Terribly. I am an intelligent, college-educated woman. My brain is more than laundry and dinner and I'll admit that I am bored to tears at times. But, you know what? My family is happy. I question my decisions this way.... When I'm laying on my deathbed, will I be lamenting the loss of my career? HELL NO! I'll be so thankful to have spent every moment I can with my kids and Doc H.

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    1. Ah, I loved reading every part of this. I find myself in a very similiar situation to what it sounds like you were in and wondering what it will be like in the future. Not that any of these are bad problems to have, but I'm finding that at some point something (someone) has to give in order to keep healthy relationships. Thanks for being real ;)!

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  12. Hi Meredith, found you through Medical Mondays. I love that you started a forum on this topic! I think about it ALL the time. I grew up with 2 working parents, both with 40+ hr./week jobs. My parents really emphasized the importance of having my own career and not relying on anyone else, so I pushed and pushed academically and graduated from one of the top law schools in the country. I met my Hubby when I was finishing law school and he was just starting med school. Throughout med school, I was the sophisticated lawyer who could take my grad-student-boyfriend along as my +1 to elegant business functions and who all of our friends and family (including his med school friends) knew was the breadwinner in the relationship. This made me feel really good, like a modern, independent woman.

    Then match day happened. We got engaged right before the match, which meant I was going wherever he was. And since we both were interested in an adventure, I had encouraged him to apply to places far from home for residency. Surprise surprise, he matched at a program across the country. I had to find a new job in the new city, but we had months to prepare so I wasn't worried. But that's when the whole "doctor's wife" thing set in. What I saw as a fun opportunity to expand our horizons my parents and the partners at my law firm saw as me sacrificing for him. They told me how sorry they were for me, and asked if I *really* was sure I wanted to do this. I was. Even now, when I have a better career in this new city and am really enjoying our "adventure," my parents will still tell me how they really hope Hubby appreciates all that I sacrificed for him.

    It's weird--I don't feel like I sacrificed by moving my career around, but everyone on the outside seems to think I did. I don't know where we'll go after residency (still a long road before then), but it's likely I'll have to change jobs again. Or, if we have kids by then, even take a break from my job. But to me it won't be a sacrifice, just another season in our lives and another adventure for us. I hate feeling like I have to justify everything I do to show people that I'm happy too, that it's not just about Hubby.

    Another thought. My job is very demanding. Many people with my job have stay-at-home spouses, just like many doctors do. But I see people looking at me as if my job *must* be of a lower caliber than it is, because why in the world would both Hubby AND I need super-demanding jobs? Or if it's not the automatic assumption that I must be a lightweight, then it's women in my tennis class or men in my office who just assume that I'll stop working once Hubby starts making good money. The thing is, I don't especially WANT to have a highly-demanding career my whole life (I, too, want balance!), but it's more the assumption that my job has to go that annoys me. There are lots of alternative arrangements one can have, and as Sheryl Sandberg says, your career (and life, I believe) is a jungle gym, not a ladder. There may be off-shoots and curvy, unexpected parts, but just because you're not moving exactly linearly doesn't mean you've stagnated.

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  13. Hello!
    I found your blog because I am trying to understand what's going on in my wife's mind. I am actually a DH. My wife and I are originally from a foreign country, where she had a non medical degree. After many years of struggle, we finally made it. We have a decent income. We can afford new cars and vacations. Then my wife told me that she want to go back to school to become a RN.

    I am just in a state of schock as I quit don't understand why she would do that. She can't qualify for financial aid because of my income. That means we have to pay cash or she will need to take on a loan. If she decides to study full-time, it will take at least 4 years after a year of pre-requesite classes. Since we have a 2 year-old child, we will have to pay for childcare. After these 5 years, whatever she will make can only have us pay more tax. The cost is just so high financially, emotionally.

    I then decided to look around for physicians wives blogs to try to understand. I hear complaints about husbands not being around. As much as I love being a physician, I hate my job. If I can find a job that will secure me a similar income, I will switch in a heartbeat. The only reason I have to stick to a job I don't like is because I have a family. We are trying to be debt-free, and I have to make sure our kids can get through college without emongous debt. When my wife decides to take this long costly road for personal reasons, I feel cheated.

    I would like to hear from you, doctors wives out there. What should I do?

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  14. Gosh y'all. This all hits so close to home. I just stumbled on this and I'm years late to the party, but seriously, its good. I'm an attorney who practiced throughout my husband's medical school and then we had our first kid. Which was great! But even in medical school, I was usually the one responsible for day care pick up/drop off and the day to day. And when my husband DID get vacation, I usually couldn't go with him. He took a couple of "guy trips" and the baby and I would try to meet them on the weekend. He did two straight away rotations so I was working a 50+ hour a week law job and raising the baby. It.was.tough. When he matched (ENT too, Meredith!) I realized I didn't want to live those 2 months for the next 5 years while also trying to be a wife to him when I could (since he was gone, I at least got to kick up my feet and eat pretty much strictly avocado toast). I would be miserable and our baby would suffer and all I really wanted to do was be home with him and have more babies. BUT, law school loans and med school loans make that choice even more difficult. Thankfully, we found a compromise. My dad needed some help with his business so I get to work part time managing a store and being general counsel to his company and spend more time with the baby. My ego struggled like woah, but at the end of the day, I know that it doesn't matter if my career takes a hit because when residency is up, I want to stay home anyway. I think this choice is tough and it means really digging deep into what you want. I didn't want to go months without having one of the same days off. I wanted to be with my kid. I don't feel like I'm giving anything up, I feel like I chose to have more of the things that matter.

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  15. Great ideas...

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