Study: Physician-Surgeon Marriages Not All Cut Out to Be

December 2, 2010

A new study says married couples consisting of a physician and a surgeon are perhaps not as cohesive as you may think and the strain of marital bliss comes under even greater pressure when both partners are surgeons.

It's just like Frank Sinatra sang: "Love and Marriage …go together like a scalpel and exam room…." OK, maybe I took a little poetic license here.

But a new study says married couples consisting of a physician and a surgeon are perhaps not as cohesive as you may think and the strain of marital bliss comes under even greater pressure when both partners are surgeons.

The study, published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, says that surgeons married to physicians face greater challenges when it comes to balancing their work-life issues than marriages where only one partner works in healthcare.

Of more than 7,120 surgeons responding to a 2008 survey by the ACS, 16 percent (1,165) had a domestic partner that was a physician. The study found these specific surgeons were younger, newer to practice, were more likely to delay having children, and to believe that childrearing had slowed their career advancement. Additionally, these surgeon-spouses were less likely to believe they had enough time for their personal and family live versus some of their colleagues whose spouses were either employed in another field or stayed at home full-time.

The survey revealed that surgeons married to physicians had greater incidents of career and work-home conflicts. But wait. Surgeons who marry fellow surgeons have even greater challenges in this area, according to the ACS.

Surgeons with a physician-spouse also were more likely to have what the survey defined as "depressive symptoms and low mental quality of life" than their peers with a husband or wife that stayed home.

The lead author of the study, Liselotte N. Dyrbye, an associate professor of medicine and consultant with the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Minnesota, said in a statement these results mean there is a greater role for workplaces to help their staff members.

"To help facilitate the lives of dual-career couples," Dyrbye said, "health care organizations should consider coordinated schedules, daycare [provisions] in the workplace, adjusted timelines for promotion and tenure, and planning for spousal employment during recruitment."

In the constant struggle for work-life balance among physicians - let alone those married to surgeons or fellow physicians - do you think your hospital or practice should lend a helping hand? Are you and your spouse both in the healthcare field? We'd love to hear how you are making your marriage work amid the personal and professional stressors.