Monday, June 16, 2014

medical school and dating

One of the most popular google searches that brings people to my blog is something along the lines of "dating in medical school" based on this post I wrote a year ago. I figured a year, and many many experiences later, that it was time to write an update to that post.

So for a bit of my own background: I dated a guy for 5.5 years, with 3.5 of those years spent with him in medical school. We went through the whole process of applying, starting, doing the pre-clinical years, and all of his third year together. At the beginning of his fourth year, I moved four states away so that I could start medical school. Three months in, we mutually agreed to end our relationship. While we had some great years together, ending that relationship needed to happen. I won't blame it on medical school itself, as we had our problems before my moving, but I would say that overall, medical school changed our relationship. We weren't on the same life path, didn't want the same things, and overall weren't a good match anymore. Three quarters of a year later, I'm now dating someone I go to school with. We started out as lab partners, then gradully friends, and as the school year progressed, we grew closer. I know some of you have asked more about him, but I prefer to keep that part of my life a bit more private :)

So having been on all sides of the medical school relationship, as I watch my own relationship grow, and watching the paths of some of my classmates' relationships, here are some of my thoughts on the crazy medical school dating path.

As the non-medical student partner:

I think the most important thing to remember is that your medical student boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse does not want to spend all night in the library. You know what sounds awesome? Getting to cook a nice dinner together, go on a walk around sunset, and then cuddle up to watch a movie. You know what doesn't sound awesome though? Failing out of medical school and owing thousands upon thousands of dollars back to the government. Your significant other probably wants nothing more than to hang out with you, but the crushing feeling of not knowing enough or not feeling prepared for a test is life-consuming. Life in medical school is all about working towards the next quiz/exam/boards.

There are definitely things that the non-medical student can do to help, especially if you live together. When I was that person, I took over a lot of the house responsibilities - I did the grocery shopping, the laundry, took care of the bills, and did the majority of the cleaning. I had the time, and I knew he didn't. In addition, the time that he saved from not having to do the other life responsibilities could go towards real time with me. I only wish I had someone doing that for me now! ;)

Long-distance relationships, on the other hand, add a whole other level of difficulty on top of what already is a hard situation. All LDRs have their hardships, but I feel because medical students rarely get free weekends or nights that it makes it pretty hard to always stay in touch. I know there's one girl in my class who has a standing 6 PM phone call with her boyfriend who lives several states away - it's right when he gets home from work, and right before she goes to the library. It carves out that little bit of the day for their relationship, and something that both partners know is a part of their day.

Talking to some of my (to be honest, male) classmates, it seems that a lot of their partners have a hard time with the fact that they can't always talk when they want to, which is why sometimes a set plan is best. If they tell you that they're going to the library for the next 6 hours, and that they'll call you after, it's really in both people's interest to let them be for those hours. They'll appreciate that you can let them have the time they need to study, you will be happy to get a real conversation instead of short texts, and everyone is happier in the end.

Most importantly, I think this time that your partner is working towards their career is a time that you get to work on yourself too. Use the time they spend studying to work on your own career, fitness, whatever. Maybe find a new hobby! The whole reason I started this blog is because I was sitting around alone while my boyfriend had to study, so I started doing something that I could do on my own. Two years later, I'm so happy I stuck with it. Finding a way to make your life not just revolve around theirs is just as important as being their support system.

As the medical student dating a non-medical student:

From my own experiences, and those of my friends, I think the one of the most important things you can do as a medical student dating a non-medical student is to include them in your new life. Especially in the first few months of school, when you are making new friends and getting used to the new hours of your life, making sure your partner is a part of it is so important. Not to say they have to come to every hang out you have with your med school friends, but having them know your friends and having your friends know them makes everything easier. You spend so much time with your classmates, and go through so much together that it could be easy to just stay in that little bubble. Having them know your partner and having your partner know them just alleviates a lot of problems. When you talk about your daily life they'll have the context of knowing who your friends are, and any feelings of mistrust may be alleviated if they actually know the guys/girls you are with. Getting them involved in those parts of your daily life prevents you from leading two separate lives. Even if you live apart, having them meet your friends the first time they visit would be a great way to integrate the different parts of your life.

Communication is key for any couple, but especially when you are in a stressful environment like med school. There are times where you just won't be able to talk to your SO, as much as both of you would like to. Sometimes you may have to prepare them that a big test is coming up and you won't be as available. That being said, as focused as you are during a study session, everyone needs to take a few minutes to just take a break. Sending a quick text to check in or say hello or ask how their day is a little thing that can make a big different to the person who misses you. They'll feel better that you're thinking of them when you're apart, you'll get a chance to take a mini break, and it prevents any blow-ups about not hearing from you.

In the end, you have to remember that your partner matters too. You may want to tell them all about the crazy thing you dissected or cut open or learned, or how hard certain situations get during rotations, but they also have a life that they want to discuss or tell you about. I know that was something that was forgotten in my previous relationship, and as supportive as the non-medical student wants to be, sometimes they want to share things with you too! I also think planning on spending time with them after tests is so important. I remember one of my friends was invited to go hang out at the bars after a big exam, but he declined by saying "I'm sorry I can't go, I really just need to go home and hang out with my wife, we haven't really been able to talk much the last week and I owe her that". That really stuck with me because not only was his wife giving him the time he needed to prepare for his test, but he knew that she wants nothing more than to spend some quality time together, and he wants the same.

As a medical student dating another medical student:

Personally I think this is the best situation to be in ;)  Especially if you are the same class, it makes a lot of things easier. You have the same daily schedule, the same med school path (doing rotations at the same time, graduating together, starting residency together), and you get what the other is going through. You probably have a similar circle of friends, a similar book list (hey, saves money in the long run!), and always something to talk about that the other person understands.

That being said, there are always difficulties with this as well. I'm lucky enough that my boyfriend and I have similar studying styles. We both like to study quietly separately, but next to each other. It's not that we are spending real time together when we study, but it's nice that we can get up and go on a quick walk or grab coffee when one of us needs a break. Some people are the kind of studiers who like to talk it all out, so if you're one of those people but your partner is a non-talking studier, it is in both of your interests to study apart, and come back together at the end of the night for cuddling or whatever. Forcing the other to modify their study styles will only backfire. The same goes for daily schedules. One of my girlfriends likes to get up at 5:30 and gets most of her studying in by mid afternoon. I, on the other hand, do much better after like 2 PM and can go until around midnight. Therefore, we don't have a lot of study sessions together because our schedules are just different.

I try not to be competitive with my friends about grades, but it's only natural to want to do well on exams. It's easy to be jealous of those who do well, but especially if you are dating someone who is taking the same tests as you are, their achievements are something to be celebrated, not something that should come between you. Everyone has something their good at, so if they happen to do really well in micro, and you happen to do better in pharm, learn from each other, and then be happy when the other does well.

There are plenty of changes coming up in the next few years - moving for rotations, matching, moving for residency. Those are big changes that make me really nervous - will we be able to move somewhere together next year? Is couples matching something that makes sense for us? These are far off, but also important things to think about and discuss. I know that this life isn't always the easiest or most convenient, but I'm happy that I currently get to share it with someone.

All of this is not to say that I'm a relationship expert by annnnnnnnnnnnny stretch of the imagination. The topic of medical school and dating is something that has been extensively discussed over the past year between myself and my friends. We've watched longterm relationships crumble within weeks, but we've also seen relationships get stronger. Some fell victim to the turkey drop, while others came back from Christmas break engaged. People you had no idea even knew each other were all of a sudden facebook official dating. Don't let anyone fool you - we may be a bunch of 20 somethings learning how to be doctors, but medical school is basically high school, with less free time and more responsibility. If you are interested in reading more about medical school and dating/married life, these are a few of my all time favorite bloggers and their stories:

A Little Bit of Lacquer: Laura is now a fourth year medical student who took a research year between third and fourth year to have an adorable baby girl (and to start planning her wedding to her ridiculously handsome classmate). You can read a bit more about her med school dating story and life here, and make sure you check out her instagram to see the best looking family in medical school.

The Doctors Fleming: Emily just graduated from residency, and is married to her former med school classmate - she discusses their story more here. They are currently expecting their first baby, a girl! Her instagram is also adorable, and includes a great mix of them being an adorable couple, delicious food, and cute clothes. Make sure you read this article she was interviewed in, that discusses the challenges and joys of being married to a doctor.

Stethoscopes, Style, and Grace: Erika is a brand new ER resident who just gave birth to her son. She married a muggle (haha) - you can read more about their story here. I'm so excited to follow along on her journey as she balances motherhood and the start of her career!

I know there are some med students/doctors who read here - what advice do you have for the rest of us? I would love to hear any words of wisdom from those who have gone through all of this before!