zenbound asked:

Hey Doc,
I should totally be studying anat right now, but your writing is addictive.
In any case, just put two and two together about your time as a doctor and your married life. I've been in a relationship with my SO for nearly 4 years now, but it’s going to turn into a long distance relationship for the next 3 years come January because of our medschool's distributed education program. It’s an added strain on my poor med student brain!
Can you share a few insights into relationships and the best ways to balance your medical life with your personal one? Thanks!

cranquis answered:

WASSUP, Zenbound? Someone else (anonymously) just asked a very similar question:

So you were with your wife/married in med school, how was that? was it hard?

And of course, my initial impulse was to reply: THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.

(chuckle, snort)

But you did the math correctly, Zenbound: I was married during medical school. And, as it turns out, I also did a long-distance relationship during med school — for the first 2 years of med school, (future) Mrs. Cranquis and I were 2,000 miles apart, and BOY did we burn up a lot of pre-paid phone cards! (For those of you who grew up with a cell phone from the age of 4, “pre-paid phone cards” were the “cheapest” way of making long long-distance phone calls, before the days of “free cell-to-cell minutes” etc. etc.)

I do NOT envy your situation, but I do empathize. And while every relationship is different, here are some general tips based on my own experiences, which may (or may not?) help you and your SO along the way…

  • Long-distance relationships suck, but they can also be good for you. So yeah, everybody’s big fear during a “LD-rel” is that you will find out the other person has lost interest (and has even already started dating someone else before notifying you that “it’s just not working out”!). This is a valid fear, but the way I see it, if in today’s world of instant communication on multiple levels (IM, email, video chat, Facebook, cell phones, etc.) you still can’t manage to communicate enough to keep the relationship connected, then maybe it just wasn’t meant to be! And if you DO make it through the LD-rel portion of your relationship, you will find that it has forced you to become a much better communicator than you might have been, otherwise. This is especially helpful for guys, who tend to be less verbal about their emotions: a successful LD-rel will only succeed if the guy steps up to the plate and starts to express himself with words.
  • In some ways, a LD-rel is less time-consuming than a “face-to-face” rel, which can be good during the “every moment that I’m not studying, I fall farther behind” environment of med school. If you don’t have a warm body waiting for you at the end of the school/study day, it’s easier to just keep on plugging away at the books. After all, you can text/email/call your SO from the library or the campus lounge or the study cubicle just as easily as you can from your home — but this way, you can stay longer in your Optimal Study Environment too. And during clinical rotations, being “on call” isn’t (quite) as sucky, because sure, you’re spending the night in the hospital and you’ll be too exhausted to do anything on your post-call day — but this way, you’re not wishing that you could just be home, snuggled up with your Honey-Tookums. Heck, you already wish that EVERY day, because you’re in a LD-rel, so what’s the big diff? :)
  • Try to avoid making major changes in relationship status midstream during med school. In other words, WHEN FEASIBLE, don’t start up a new relationship, end a long-term one, or propose marriage in the middle of a school year. And if things are just headed in the direction of a major commitment (I’m referring to marriage here, but “moving in together” would work too), consider setting aside some time for that! After my first 2 years of school + LD-rel, I wanted to spend some quality face-to-face time with Girlfriend Cranquis, with the goal of marrying her. My med school dean (a wise and wonderful man) listened to my “desperate” rambling plea/idea of “Maybe I could take an extra month off between 2nd and 3rd year, so I could get engaged and married?”, then he STOMPED on it and said, “Why are you thinking so small? You need to take a year off, go court that girl, get engaged, marry her, and then come back to start school.” So that’s what I did — and BOY was he right! I didn’t “forget everything I’d learned” during that year off (this was my biggest fear), and during that year away from medical school, just working a couple part-time jobs and spending as much time as possible with Girlfriend/Fiancee/Mrs. Cranquis, I was finally able to discover that YES, I actually was enjoying becoming a doctor, and I really DID want to go back and finish med school (I had also been afraid that, once I “escaped” from the constant rat-race of medical school that I would realize that I didn’t want to go back). To this day, Mrs. Cranquis says that my decision to take off a whole year to court/marry her was one of the biggest expressions of love she’d ever received, and it made it MUCH easier for her to tolerate the stresses of my 2 remaining clinical years + 3 years of residency when we returned to my med school program.
  • But of course, not everyone can afford/accept taking a year off from med school “just” to pursue a relationship. In that case, I recommend: (1) Pick your SO wisely — now is not the time to just “date around”! You are investing too much time and effort into becoming a professional physician to waste your tiny amount of “social time” on relationships that obviously won’t go anywhere. (2) Start making your relationship a priority NOW. Don’t fool yourself — it’s not going to get any EASIER to maintain a relationship after med school, or after residency, or after you get your first job, or after you pay off your med school debt. If you don’t start making the tough decision to set aside study time, money, and emotional strength to spend on your SO now, you never will. Right now, you may not have MUCH time etc. to give, but whatever you DO have, GIVE IT! (3) Get your SO involved in your educational experience — Share your triumphs and woes with them, find out if your school has a “Alumni Auxiliary” program (these usually have a “support group” for spouses/SO’s of med students), help them see the situation from your point of view. This will help your SO to be more understanding during those times (exam weeks, Board exam prep weeks, on-call shifts) when you just can’t contribute as much emotionally to the relationship.

I hope this takes a bit of strain off of your “poor med student” (PMS?! HAHA!) brain. Hit me up with any more questions you may have about this.



In case you were wondering — 3.5 years after asking me this question, Zenbound (Medical State) and his long-distance SO got hitched.

This is encouraging