People Who Marry Doctors in Training are Saints

by The Darwinian Doctor

Let’s collectively canonize the spouses of doctors in residency training — they’re saints!

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Last week, I had a busy day in the operating room and left the hospital after 12 hours.  I was tired and hungry as I drove home for the night.  As I waited in the drive through line for some fast food, I had a brief flash of self pity.  But as I pulled away from the restaurant, stuffing salty french fries into my mouth, I had already put things into perspective.  

Residency training was hard

When I was in residency training, I was lucky to leave the hospital after 12 hours.  Most days were 13-14 hours long, and I was lucky to get even one day off a week.  By the time I got home, I was physically and emotionally drained.  Sometimes I’d fall asleep in my car in the driveway, waking up a couple hours later to a cold car before shuffling to my front door.  

As I thought back to this difficult time in my life, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude.  Because I didn’t go through residency by myself.  I got married a few weeks before I started training.  By the time I was in my fifth year of residency, I also had my first child.  Like it or not, they were along for the ride with me.  

80 hours is still a lot of hours

I trained in the era before work hour restrictions. At the very worst, I worked a couple of 120 hour weeks.  Those weeks were brutal.

Thankfully, I wasn’t a neurosurgery resident, so most of my weeks were a mere 80-100 hours.  I trained at a center of excellence for urologic oncology, so the majority of my days were spent assisting my attending surgeons with complex oncology cases.  The training was fantastic, but it left scant time for things like sleep and personal care, let alone time to invest into your family life.  

Although I’ve heard mythical stories of residency programs that had humane hours and treated their residents with respect (shoutout to psychiatry), these are few and far between.  

It’s far more common that I hear the themes that I experienced myself during residency training:  sleep deprivation, poor mental health, and challenges with personal relationships.

I would never diminish the incredible toll that these things can have on a resident’s quality of life.  But I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the effect that this can all have on your partner too.  

Did they know what was in store for them?

You could certainly argue that my wife knew what she was getting into and therefore isn’t deserving of my gratitude.  But frankly, that’s a load of crap.  

I don’t think even medical students really know what they are getting into when they decide on their specialty and residency match list.  Sure, you can get an inkling of the challenges of residency during your third and fourth year rotations, but nothing replaces the experience of going through it yourself.  

When you’re talking about the partner or spouse of a medical student, the expectations are even more vague.  There’s just no way to predict how lonely and frustrating it can be to have a partner who is physically and emotionally absent for so much of your day to day life.  

It’s not just doctors

Of course this situation isn’t confined to just physicians.  If you’re a spouse or partner of someone who works in finance, law enforcement, nursing, or many of the other fields with inhumanely long work hours, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  

In the video I recorded talking about this topic, there were a lot of comments from spouses of people who worked in non-medical professions that also went through a similar experience.  For many of them, the situation didn’t get worse after training.  For some of them, this situation is the status quo for the entirety of their partner’s career.  

Let’s hear it for our partners

So here’s to the spouses and partners that stuck with us during residency training.  They are saints for tolerating us during those years.  Because after 14 hours in the hospital, I would often come home with my tank of emotional reserve woefully depleted.  It already got spent on the patients I saw in the clinic that day, or dealing with the stress of a hostile senior resident.  

By the time I got home, I just didn’t have much left over to nurture my relationship with my wife for the hour or so I had before I had to get to bed.  I’d try to make up for it on my days off or on the occasional golden weekend, but it was always less than she deserved.

Welcome to the sainthood

To be declared a saint by the Catholic Church, you need to live a heroically virtuous life and then perform two miracles.  From my perspective, spouses who stick with doctors during training are certainly heroically virtuous.  When it comes to my wife, she also performed miracles by birthing two amazing sons at a time when I had precious little time and energy to help her.  We were lucky enough to have help with childcare, but this doesn’t diminish the amazing job she did raising our kids almost single handedly during those early years.  

I’m sure your partners all did similar miracles as well. 

So please join me in welcoming your partners into the realm of sainthood and congratulate them today.  They deserve it. 

– The Darwinian Doctor

Share this post with your spouse to show them you’re grateful for their sacrifices during your residency training!  Comment below with some stories of their sacrifice! 

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4 months ago

There is a 3rd miracle that far supercedes the first 2. Like the author, I was married in medical school and we had our 3 kids before I finished general surgery residency.
Although I loved my children deeply, the real foundation of their successes and our grandchildren are first and foremost due to the daily diligence of my wife.
The 3rd and most important miracle is that I just retired with her by my side after 30 years. Marriages often don’t last in this profession. It takes a real Saint to run that marathon. It took me years to realize that I never could have been as successful and happy without her.
I often hear people say “I’d be bored if I retired.”
Not me. It’s her turn to get MY attention. I love it, like going to Disney every day. I wish everyone could have the support she has given me.

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