For better or worse, boundaries blur when both spouses have MDs.
My grandmother in India is perpetually worried about me. Born in a generation when women seldom worked, especially after marriage, every Sunday phone call with her usually ends with a slew of concerns about how I am balancing running a household, staying healthy, and planning for a family while working a full-time job as a first-year resident. All of this coupled with being married to a first-year neonatology fellow. She’s right, it is hard. But life with a physician partner is a unique experience.
Female physicians in dual-physician relationships are not uncommon. Women constituted 47.6 percent of all US medical school graduates in 2014-2015, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. And nearly 40 percent of physicians are likely to have a spouse who is a physician or health care professional, according to a 2014 report released by AMA Insurance. It seems that the plethora of “Life of a Doctor’s Wife” (and husband/partner) online forums and Facebook pages may need to rethink their catchy but outdated titles to keep pace with the shifting demographics of physician relationships.
Beyond the appeal of a good old office romance, sometimes mired in spicy affairs or even tragic death as in the world of Meredith Grey, there are discernible benefits to having a partner to relate to on a personal and professional level. My husband and I are constantly thankful for how little explaining we have to do about our erratic work schedules. When setting up our bedroom after moving in together we thought as much about the furniture as the light-blocking shades we needed to install. Melatonin and sleep masks are always within reach on both sides of the bed. Conversations over the kitchen island flow freely from descriptions of body fluids to upcoming local wine tastings and then to myriad acronyms about the “G1 with PEC who needed Mag stat” or “the 28 weeker with NEC on TPN.” The innocent bystander would be confused or, worse yet, appalled.
Processing challenging work situations or patients with a partner who experiences similar situations can be extremely therapeutic. Not to mention the free “curbside consults” they come with. On cross-cover during my adult medicine rotation, I was taking care of a frail 84-year-old woman with metastatic lesions to her spine. She had insisted on radiation treatment; however, she was now refusing the pretreatment MRI that she had agreed to earlier in the day. I paged the oncologist on call for advice on alternatives; he was on his way to dinner and unsure, but happened to be sitting next to his radiologist wife who could answer my question.
The blurring of work-life boundaries does come with its challenges. When two individuals are used to being decision makers at work, compromise can be a particularly hard pill to swallow at home. Sharing domestic responsibilities equally for us is sometimes as simple as willing yourself to fold the laundry at the end of an exhausting day if your partner put it in the dryer in the morning.
Before hanging up the other day, my grandmother struck a deal with me. She generously volunteered to come visit us and help out at home. In return, she asked only for a great-grandchild to dote on. I politely declined. For now, Grandma, we’re just trying to keep the plants alive.