Andy is officially an R2 (a.k.a. a second-year resident). Hallelujah! There are still more years to go, but there are more years of training behind us than ahead of us, which is a good feeling.
Last year I was not looking forward to med school graduation. It sounds crazy, I know. Fellow medical spouse friends had told me that residency was the hardest part of the medical training journey and I was not looking forward to it. We were enjoying an easy last few months of med school (despite the fact that we did have a newborn, were selling our house, preparing to move, etc.) and I was sad to see that time go. I had a job I loved, we had a good community of support, it was the first place we really lived and put down roots as a married couple.
And, well, it was hard. This past year is at least equal to the 6 months of Andy’s away audition rotations. But we survived! I have been trying to figure out what I should share as we leave this medical year and begin a new one. It has mostly come out as a jumble of things that seemed to make the most sense framed as what I would tell a fellow doctor wife. So, what would I say to a fellow spouse on the precipice of intern year? Well, here we go…
- Splurge on a great vacation. We decided to take an awesome vacation in between graduation and residency, at the expense of having more time to get our new home set up. Totally, completely worth it. Our savings took a hit but the time was priceless. Catherine still talks about it. Any events that a 3-year-old can remember a year later I count as a success.
- Always help them remember what it felt like to be a doctor for the first time. Those first few days of going to the hospital and actually being called doctor are special. It is still surreal to walk into a room of my spouse’s colleagues and hear them refer to him that way. On the hard days, they’ll need you to help them remember what a privilege it is to get to do what they do. Remind them how far they’ve come.
- Remember that sleep deprivation doesn’t breed understanding. (See the photo above for reference.) When your spouse is coming off of an extra long shift, or days in a row of extra long shifts, which means in turn that you’ve had days in a row of manning the home solo, it is not an environment that predisposes you to be extra understanding of the struggles your spouse is going through. (This advice goes for both parties – the doctor spouse and the non-doctor spouse). It helps to try to take a moment and put yourself in the other person’s shoes but honestly, sometimes you’re just too tired. This violates the age-old advice to “never let the sun go down on your anger” but sometimes the best thing to do is to tell your spouse you love them and go to sleep. Things will look better when you’re rested. Just don’t forget to resolve the previous conflict after the rest.
- Be honest with your spouse about what you need and how you feel. When you are married to someone who is involved in actual life and death situations at work, your day to day needs can feel trivial in comparison. But here’s the thing, there are lots of doctors in the world but only one that is your spouse. No one can fill in for them in that role. You have to learn how to express your struggles without trying to lay on a guilt trip and share your needs with reasonable expectations. It won’t always be perfect, but it is critical that you work on it and learn how. If you feel like you are widowed to the hospital, your spouse needs to know. Maybe shouldering the housework alone is more than you can handle. Find realistic ways to divide up the work. Reevaluate regularly. Communicate often. Your marriage depends on it.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This applies just in general to things in residency, but especially to scheduling. If it looks like they might get a surprise afternoon off or a late start to the day, all I’m saying is, don’t count on it.
- Night float stinks. It doesn’t seem like night shift should be such a big deal but for whatever reason, it seems to be a universally held truth among doctor spouses. Give yourself some grace to be in survival mode. The last night of night float, my kids ate apple slices and goldfish for dinner. They’re fine.
- You can do hard things. This is the doctor spouse mantra. You can do hard things. Schedule changed again? You adapt. Last minute patient right before their shift is over? It will be okay. At the hospital for the 14th day in a row? You can do hard things.
- This isn’t the hardest thing. It helps to have a reality check and remember that although the doctor family life can be hard and a lot of times people don’t understand, your spouse isn’t the only one who works demanding hours or spends their time trying to help others. This is a hard thing. There are much harder things. Find things to be thankful for each day, even when you don’t want to.
- Find your tribe, love them hard. My fellow doctor wife friends, especially the ones who are my sisters in Christ, are invaluable to me. There are just some days when it feels like no one else gets it, but they do. Someone that you can vent to without explaining the match process or board tests. Someone who has lived days that are hard in the same ways and can encourage you from a place of experience. When you find those friends, no matter how far the medical journey takes you, hold on tight to them.
- Don’t get caught up in the comparison game. The longer you stay in medical training, the more it can feel like you’re behind everyone. Everyone else is checking things off of the culturally accepted list of adult accomplishments and you’re over here just celebrating that your spouse finally has a day job that pays them. The journey can feel really really long. That’s okay. Don’t let what you don’t have steal the enjoyment of the things you do have right here in front of you.
What would you add to the list? Good luck to all the new residents!