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Valentine’s Day-a day both revered and reviled-is a good time to reflect on how to make medical relationships not only work but thrive.
Editor’s Note: Physicians Practice’s blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform.
At the end of my third year of medical school, my then-boyfriend and I went away for the weekend. He met me with a dozen roses before I drove us up the coast to a charming B&B. I initially wondered if this would be “the” moment when he proposed, but I quickly rejected that idea when he fell asleep before we’d left the city limits. There’s no way he could be that relaxed if he was about to pop the question, I told myself. Happily, I was wrong and a romantic proposal followed soon after our arrival. (I said “yes”–he’s been my partner in crime for the last 20 years). I underestimated the power of medical school fatigue to overcome pre-proposal jitters.
The medical profession does not promote healthy relationships, reasonable work-life balance, or emotional wellness. All three are possible, nevertheless.
On a recent flight home, I sat next to a young pediatrics resident, who was training in the South while her boyfriend completed his residency in the Midwest. She was flying to meet him for one of the few weekends they were able to schedule around call and residency responsibilities. We discussed the challenges of trying to nurture a relationship during residency training. I shared that my husband and I were newlyweds when I started my internship and were geographically separated for nearly my entire residency while he completed his PhD and medical school in another city. We lived for those weekends when my call schedule and his allowed us to spend time together.
At the time, it was a bitter disappointment to leave my new husband and start what proved to be the most difficult years of my life alone. In retrospect, I recognize the blessing buried in this situation. When we did spend time together, it was relatively stress free. We didn’t have errands to do and didn’t schedule much of anything during these precious weekends. As a result, we enjoyed each other and spent little time arguing or reaping the consequences of post-call hangovers. My fellow residents who were fortunate enough to have family close would find it difficult to go home at the end of a 36 hour shift and try to sleep while also trying to make up for their absence.
Fast forward to our lives now. With four children and a busy medical career, we can spend days in the same house without making much of a connection. Proximity does not equal intimacy and can sometimes even make it more difficult. Said another way, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Years ago, we had to work hard to keep our connection strong over many miles. Now, my husband and I have to work hard to keep our connection strong over our endless to-do list and a multitude of distractions.
I am very far from perfect and my own marriage has its share of challenges and issues. But it is possible to nurture healthy relationships, work-life balance, and emotional wellness-with the right choices and habits. Just like a healthy diet combined with exercise and sleep can help ward off everything from dementia to cancer, there are commitments we can make to promote our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.
Jennifer Frank, MD, is a family physician and physician leader in Northeastern Wisconsin and finds medicine still to be the best gig out there. Married with four kids, she is engaged in intensive study and pursuit of work-life balance.