By Jessica Mahon
(Editor’s Note: Today we are delighted to hear from the spouse of a medical student who wrote the letter she wishes had been given to her before that first year to help her prepare. Whether you are in the midst of that first year with the physician in your life or it’s a distance memory, much of her advice applies to medical relationships new and old. Jessica’s article first appeared here on her personal blog.)
I had a discussion earlier today with a friend whose husband just started his first year of medical school. She was commenting on some of the concerns that she has regarding their new adventure together and asked what tips I had that could make their transition easier. It got me thinking about how difficult of a transition it was going into medical school life. Before Justin started medical school, our lives ran parallel; we had the same group of friends, went to school together and even worked together. Our lives were evenly matched. Then he started medical school and we weren’t even close to being on the same page anymore!
I won’t lie to you, that first year was the most difficult year of our life and we made it through together by the skin of our teeth. I am so thankful that we did though, because living a medical life has, hands down, been one of the most incredible things to ever happen to us. It is definitely difficult for sure but overall, it’s pretty awesome.
Here is the letter that I wish someone would have given me before Justin’s first day.
Dear first-year medical student’s spouse/significant other,
Congratulations! Your spouse has just begun their first year of medical school! This is an incredibly exciting time for both of you as you begin this journey. Whether you have relocated, stayed in the same city or are going through this in different locations, this is the start of a very thrilling, and often times challenging, new journey together. Take a second to applaud yourselves for getting this far. We all know how difficult it is to get accepted into medical school and our fellas/ladies worked their tails off to get to where they are. Becoming a doctor is an honor that is given only to the best of the best, but being the support system that our doctors and future doctors rely on is just as significant.
For this orientation week, enjoy the special moments together. Attend the events that allow you to meet the men and women that your significant other will be spending most of their time with; these individuals will become just as important to you as they will become to your spouse. Take opportunities at these events to also meet fellow significant others! These men and women will be your lifelines during exams, finals and boards. They will be the shoulders that you lean on and the souls that you reach out to when no one else will understand how difficult this journey can be. They will be essential in your life and the bonds that you make with them will likely last a lifetime. Most importantly though, take time with your S.O. to explore your surroundings and have a few last nights of binge watching shows or going out on dates. Your days together will soon become precious and few (but worth it)!
For these next four years, your calendars will both be filled with exam dates and board study months, which will affect each of you in different ways. Your S.O. will not be able to be as involved in certain things as they once were because for the rest of their lives, their job is to know as much information as humanly possible about how and why the human body works. The amount of information that they will be required to learn and memorize over the next few years is absurd, and positively cruel, but such is the life of a future doctor. During this time, it can be easy to get upset with your S.O. for the amount of time that they have to devote to medicine and the little time that they have left for you. When this happens, take a step back and try to give them the benefit of the doubt. No one in their right mind would want to study every night until 3 o’clock in the morning after getting out of class at 5 p.m. They just wouldn’t. When understanding is in short supply, ask your partner to show you all of the pages that they are expected to know in less than 24 hours. It will quickly put things in perspective. Keep in mind that when you are sad that they are going to miss an important event, they are likely just as upset at having to miss it. Be kind to them.
Just as important, however, is to be kind and forgiving to yourself. You’re likely in a new town where the only person that you know is busier than they have ever been in their life. It is perfectly understandable that you might be feeling sad and lonely during this time. Transitioning into this can be tough and doing it alone only makes it more difficult. This is why it is so important to make connections with other medical school spouses. Find out if there is a Student Advocates Association started at the school and attend one of their events. This is a great way to meet other men and women who are in similar situations as you and can join you in this crazy ride! Also, plan trips touring your city and find things that you are passionate about doing. Meet likeminded people doing hobbies that you love. Get yourself out there!
Most importantly though is plan time with your spouse. If possible, set aside an hour each night where you spend quality time together, even if it’s just over dinner. Put all electronic devices away and really spend that hour connecting and catching up on each other’s day; forgive them when all they want to talk about is medicine. They haven’t seen the outside world much lately. Plan a monthly date night and make plans for their off months. Having something to look forward to is crucial for both of you. Find time to be a couple outside of medicine. You started this journey together and ultimately want to be together when it’s all said and done so I cannot stress enough how important quality time is.
This next year will be full of challenges. Some you were expecting to face and others that you weren’t. For some of you, it will feel like the year will never end, but it will! And the others will go by quicker than you ever imagined possible! Some days you might even look back on this time in your lives and almost kind of miss parts of it. The years to follow will get easier, the transitions less difficult, your spouses schedules will become almost “normal” and you both will get used to this new way of life together. For this year though, remember to be kind. Remember to be forgiving. Remember to be understanding. Remember that you’re in this together.
A veteran medical student’s wife.
Jessica is the wife of a first year Family Medicine intern and a stay-at-home-mom to a wild one-year-old little boy. She is the currently establishing an Intern and Resident Advocate Association in East Orlando and will be pursuing her Master’s degree in Language Arts Education in the spring. When she is not working on her projects or chasing after her little ball of energy, she’s writing about her experiences on her blog. You can read more of her work at www.thespitshow.blogspot.com.