When you’re married to someone whose profession demands unpredictable hours and requires a strong support system at home, it’s tough to maintain the needs of the household if there’s not someone there to manage it full-time. Because of this, many physician spouses and partners choose to quit their jobs to stay at home with their family. This isn’t always because they want to get OUT of the workforce, but sometimes staying IN the workforce just doesn’t make sense.
But what happens if you’re married to a doctor, have a family, and you don’t want to leave your career to stay at home? Is it even possible? It’s certainly doable, but it takes a whole lot of planning, coordination, and communication. We asked a group of doctor spouses who’ve held onto their careers how they do it. Here’s how they make it work.
Build A Network
Hands down, one of the most important things any spouse or partner can do to maintain their sanity while in a relationship with a doctor is to build and maintain a strong support network. If you plan on continuing your career outside the home, it’s also vitally important to:
- Build a support network at work with coworkers who are reliable, compassionate, and willing to listen to you vent.
- Be vulnerable and ask for help from friends, family, and coworkers. This is the time to make the workplace work for you and not the other way around.
- Ask neighbors for help when attending conferences, work trips, etc. They can be a reliable source for things like helping to pick up the kids after school.
Manage Your Expectations
It pains us to tell you this, but it’s true. If you’re married to a doctor, you must plan your life as if having your spouse around is a happy surprise. Set your expectations accordingly (in other words, low). Make sure you have your bases covered if you need to get some work done, the kids need to be picked up, or if you have obligations outside the home.
Communication is important in any dual-career household, but it’s one of the biggest keys to success when your spouse’s/partner’s hours are unpredictable. Here are some candid tips from our panel to help keep communication lines open as a medspouse:
- Learn to communicate your needs. It’s amazing how often I assume my husband is a mind-reader and vice versa. Be clear with yourself and with your partner between your needs and your wants. Compromises must be made by both people, which is why knowing needs vs wants is so important. Wants can be sacrificed at times, needs cannot be. Therapy (both personal and marriage) can help with this.
- Split daily responsibilities whenever possible, don’t let resentment build – communicate!
- Know that your spouse will not be around during training and the first few years of attending life. With this in mind, have an honest pre-marriage conversation about what your limitations look like. For example, I negotiated living closer to my family and friends because of his inability to be present on a regular basis. He negotiated that I would not work night shifts because that was when he would be free. It would have been unfair for him to be alone in his little free time when there were plenty of day shift options for me.
- In the pre-marriage negotiations, we talked about children. For example: short of being on call, it’s his responsibility to be home by 6pm. If there’s more work to be done, he can do this once the kids go to sleep. Our belief is that our kids should not have to sacrifice us for our careers. From 6-8pm he’s ours, but he really likes it so he never works after. The trade-off is that his notes aren’t completed so now I run the office to arrange the schedule. I also hired a scribe.
- Know what you need and what you’re willing to be flexible on. Have those hard conversations early on, with a counselor if need be. It can be hard work, but it’s worth it. Clearly, none of this is glamorous or romantic. It’s a practical approach that we used to set realistic expectations, and it has worked really well for us.
- Share google calendars and be sure to update them frequently.
- We use Google Calendar and invite each other to everything (important meetings, presentations, appointments, etc).
- We meet every Sunday night and spend about a half hour discussing our calendar and delegating responsibilities. Each month we do a broader meeting to get a handle on the month ahead.
- We’ve found that communication and clear expectations are key to both being supported and successful!
Therapy is the second most recommended tip from our poll. (Let’s be honest. Had we polled anyone married to a doctor, they’d probably say the same.) Here’s what our panel had to say:
- Start couples therapy early. Even if you’re in the happiest of relationships, being in a dual career relationship can be trying. The more you can do to invest in building and growing a strong foundation the better.
- Start marriage therapy early and learn how to communicate effectively. Also, start your own therapy. Being married to a physician is HARD!!
- Patience and understanding go a long way when married to a medical professional, but boundaries still need to be set and communicated if you want your career, too. Again, super useful to have a therapist for this!
Lastly, getting outside help was (overwhelmingly) the number one piece of advice from our medspouse professionals. Here are their thoughts:
- If you have to hire help to get your needs met, then do it.
- Wherever you can afford it, hire help. Help with childcare, cleaning, meals, laundry, landscaping. Grocery delivery and meal delivery kits are lifesavers.
- Hire out as much as you can. I went with jettisoning the things I couldn’t do or would have sucked up too much time: pool maintenance, lawn care, HVAC maintenance, car care, and food delivery/meal services.
- Working remotely and hiring help has been so key for DrH and me. The minute I started advancing in my career is the minute we realized we needed to hire help to make sure all needs are met and that we’re still spending time together and on our marriage.
- We combined some of the things we needed help with into a full-time Nanny/House Manager position which allowed us to broaden the scope of her work. She helps us with anything from school pick-up to getting the logistics down for us to move. If we need lawn maintenance or pets groomed or kids haircuts, she manages booking all those things so we don’t have to. It’s allowed us to focus on the things we truly care about, which is quality time with our kids, each other, and our careers.
- We use a meal prep service to help save time going grocery shopping and figuring out what to cook.
- We make sure that we are living within a certain mile radius of work and school (made the mistake before of living too far away) but all those things add up to take more time which is so precious when you have dual careers like us.
We think it’s important to mention that if you’re married to a doctor and unsure working outside the home is doable, consider working remotely. Think about this comment from one of our medspouse professionals:
“I’ve been able to work remotely through our entire medical journey, which has been key to me building my career for the last 10 years at the same company, while he’s been training and building his. I’d tell people that if they thought it was out of reach before to reconsider because COVID taught a lot of employers the value of remote employees and flexibility. Many jobs, even more traditional ones like teaching, have virtual positions now, and the job market is very much in the favor of job candidates.”
We appreciate our panel of professionals and their contribution to this article. By sharing our experiences, we help others learn and pave the way for stronger and happier lives for all physicians and their spouses and partners. The decision to stay at home to manage the household or have a career outside the home is purely individual. Everyone’s situation is different, especially in medicine, and we support all families that work toward building a stronger home life… no matter how they get there!