Relationships In Med School: Pros, Cons, And How To Make It Work

“So you were accepted to med school, are you going to lose the love of your life? Probably not; relationships don’t automatically get a death sentence the minute you start medical school. The relationship will definitely be put through the wringer, however.

Getting home late from studying or coming back from the hospital too exhausted to talk are certainly things that your significant other has to become very comfortable with very soon if they are to even think about sticking around. Med school is not the time for casual dating or flings, you simply don’t have the time to devote to the “getting to know” each-other phase.

How med school hurts relationships

As stated above, the amount of time and effort that is placed into medical school means that a significant other (SO) will be, by necessity, placed on the “back-burner.” This is a position that many SOs won’t be comfortable with; it’s not fun to be ignored. A wise medical student must appropriate his/her time appropriately and it can be very difficult to neglect someone you love for something that isn’t all that fun to do (lots of studying).

Tempers become shorter as weariness sets in, and this can lead to more disagreements and can potentially lead to the implosion of the relationship. Quality time becomes less and less, straining the connection you may have built upon for years. Student loans are meant to keep you afloat, without much room for entertainment so generally money is tighter; so when you have the time to do things you might not be able to afford more than Netflix or a cheap restaurant.

Your SO may feel like you’re not as good of a catch anymore, you don’t help around the house as much, you’re never home, you are always tired; you may even be more grouchy.

How relationships can hurt med school

Excelling in medical school takes focus, dedication, and a whole lot of effort. Taking time off of studying to spend with your SO may lead to less time spent studying, or even missing assignments. The extra quality time you’re spending to keep your relationship afloat may just lead to less shadowing, volunteering, etc. Disagreements and arguments are inevitable and that could lead to less study time and not being able to focus when you do get a chance. In the end you might end up with poor scores and an overall less competitive application. The kicker here is that all that might happen and your relationship still not survive.

Sounds like doom and gloom for relationships in medical school, right?

Not so much…

How relationships can help med school

Being in a steady, healthy relationship can have the opposite effect on your academic performance. A loving and caring SO may make your day easier by packing lunch for you, tidying up the apartment, taking care of errands for you, etc. Coming home and being able to unwind and de-stress with someone that loves you is invaluable. Quality time will be different but not necessarily less; If your SO is also in an academic program you may be able to spend time together studying at a Starbucks or tea-shop. If your SO isn’t studying then maybe they watch shows while you sit with them studying, either way it’s quality time.

How med school can help a relationship

In many ways the strain that med school puts on a relationship may help you either realize that relationship wasn’t meant to last or know that this person may be right for you. We’re growing up and thinking about more adult things down the road *cough*kids*cough*marriage* and spending years on a relationship that is doomed to fail is not exactly ideal. Med school will force both of you to grow up and work together, or grow up and go separate ways. When you come home and you’re exhausted but your SO is there for you with dinner and a good conversation, it can really make the difference. Overall, it can forge a stronger bond by creating a situation where you were there for each other during tough times.

Long distance relationships

This is a very real possibility for many people out there who will be accepted to a university on the other side of the state or even the other side of the country. This can be tough, and should especially be considered before starting school. If there is any thought that either of you will be unfaithful given this situation, then just end the relationship now, because that sort of stress will not fly in this environment. Even the strongest relationship will be in jeopardy if you’re separated for 4 years with only Skype and the occasional flight to connect you two. Making it work in this situation will require a lot of trust, patience, and communication.

If your SO has a career of their own (read: not just a job) or a professional degree of their own that they are working on, then this can help tremendously. If one person has nothing but time to sit around and think about how much different the relationship is while the other is slaving away in a rigorous program, it spells trouble. Each of you having a common goal (surviving your respective program) then it fosters a camaraderie that can strengthen a relationship at a crucial time. If your SO has plenty of free time then encourage them to enjoy a hobby or something so they don’t feel so bored. Think long and hard about this one if this is your situation.

Marriage and kids in med school

Being married and starting medical school happens quite frequently, but it of course will take a strong marriage to get through it. These relationships are typically already long term and have already been through the trials and tribulations that end weaker relationships. Sometimes marriages fail in med school but it is certainly not as likely as a short relationship. Surviving here takes the same thing as any other relationship.

Kids are another story altogether. Having a child born during med school or having a very young child upon entering med school can be a nightmare. This will commonly result in academic troubles for the student and relationship troubles for the couple. Best-case scenario is that the student stays afloat and the relationship stays together. This scenario will make it very difficult for a student to achieve high scores consistently enough to be on the top of the class, because no matter how smart a person is they’re still human. Raising a child takes so much time and energy that it is almost impossible to be there 100% for the child and be there 100% for your med school studies. It can be done of course, but with great difficulty and low likelihood. If you’re in this situation think twice about committing yourself to a highly competitive residency like orthopedics or dermatology.

My experience

So why do I feel qualified to talk to you about this? I’ve seen or experienced every bit of what I’ve mentioned above.

I’ve seen relationships fail and I’ve seen friends get married. I’ve seen a new parent have to repeat a year and I’ve seen people with kids endure. I was in a medium term (2+ years) relationship when I started medical school. The relationship was strained for sure, and we came out on the other side together. My first year was very difficult for us. The adjustment was astounding. We went through rough patches where we argued a lot, and other times where we just didn’t communicate much. We worked through it and now we have a much different relationship, which is very conducive to both our long-term success and my performance in medical school. She takes care of me and I’m eternally grateful for it. My lunch is packed with coffee ready to go in the morning, clothes ironed, apartment cleaned. When I do get a break from studying or in-between classes I spend with her as much as I can, trying to repay the favor as much as possible. I’ll catch up on chores around the house and take care of things that I didn’t have the time to do. We spend quality time together in different ways now, studying while watching sports, or studying all day and rewarding ourselves with a trip to the theatre or restaurant. We argue less and my grades are high, the best of both worlds. I can safely say my relationship is stronger and more mature than when I entered med school, and she has kept me going when med school was overwhelming.

How to handle the situation

So what do you do with all of this information? That will vary from person to person, but make sure that choice is yours. Don’t break up just because you heard that’s what you have to do, and don’t stay together just because you guys kind of like each other right now. Now is the time to start thinking long-term. What are your goals in medicine? What are your goals with this relationship? Have an open dialogue with your SO now, and you’ll thank me later.”