Physicians tend to marry later and their marriages last longer even as they face the challenges, like others with demanding professions, of giving time and attention to their partners and families.
The University of Michigan Medical School interviewed 25 physicians and spouses to learn how “medical marriages” succeed and the resulting report is rich with data and anecdotes about live-in in-laws, role definition, financial security and the advantage of avoiding the emergency room because Mom or Dad knows how to stitch a bad cut.
Published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U-M report revealed the following strategies for success when one or both spouses are physicians:
• We rely on mutual support.
• We recognize the important roles of each family member.
• We have shared values.
• We acknowledge the benefit of being a physician to our relationships.
The report was co-authored by Monica Lypson, M.D., whose partner is a physician,Rachel L. Perlman, M.D., who shares her life with another faculty member, and Paula Ross, Ph.D., a project manager and sociologist in the Office of Medical Student Education at the U-M Medical School.
“Physicians and their spouses experience challenges to their relationships, some of which are shared with the general population and others of which are unique to the field of medicine,” says Lypson, a professor of internal medicine and learning health sciences and assistant dean for graduate medical education at the U-M Medical School. “Trainees and junior faculty members remain curious about how they will balance their careers alongside marriage and family obligations.”
Navigating a work-life balance is an important topic to integrate into formal courses in medical education, authors say. The research data could also be useful when counseling physicians who struggle to achieve fulfillment both at home and at work.
“Being in a medical marriage is an experience I share with many others in academic medicine, which helped me realize the importance of this study in helping not only my colleagues and trainees, but also myself,” says Perlman,chief of nephrology at Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System.
In interviews, participants appreciated having role definition – knowing what they needed to do around the house and knowing what duties their partner would perform.
Many of the physicians and partners interviewed relocated far from families for their medical careers. Physicians earnestly acknowledged that support from extended family and partners made a difference in their ability to do their jobs, according to authors.
“Noting the important role of support provides insight into the ways in which physician relationships manage to remain resilient amid ongoing career demands,” says Ross.
*Image of “heart” via Shutterstock