marrying a doctor

Marrying a Doctor: What’s It Really Like? 

Most people think they understand what it’s like marrying a doctor. They have everything understood. 

Here’s the perception: It must be nice being married to a doctor. 

I say that tongue in cheek, as this is an exaggeration. Sort of. Unless you’re in a medical marriage (or close to someone who is), it’s difficult to know what it’s like to be married to a doctor. 

Before we debunk this great myth and do a reality check, let’s first peek behind the curtain on a couple things: 

  1. 99.99% of those married to a doctor, married that person for reasons other than being a doctor. Yes, there are qualities that make someone both a great partner and a great doctor (patience, kindness, empathy, caring, a sharp brain, etc), but honestly, being a doctor is last on the list of potential partner qualifications. 
  2. Most medspouses/partners will tell you they rarely think about their partner being a doctor. That’s because their ‘role’ as a doctor is not the most important thing to us. Like anyone else’s marriage, their most important role is being a good partner. Plus, most doctors are pretty silly at home, so imagining them in medicine can be pretty hilarious to most of us.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, whether you’re with a medical student, dating a doctor, marrying a doctor, or you know someone who is, we’ve put together some fun (and some serious) insight into life as a medspouse/partner. 

Debt up to your eyeballs. Young men and women who introduce themselves as doctors can seem very alluring. It’s actually kind of a bait and switch. You may see earning potential, but what they don’t come right out and say is that they’ve actually accumulated over $350k in medical school debt. Tread lightly. If you marry this person, YOU may also be over $350k in debt.  

Your spouse is a snuffaluffagus. If you didn’t watch Sesame Street when you were a kid, this may not resonate. Snuffaluffagus was Big Bird’s best friend who no one else saw (except for Big Bird). When you’re married to a doctor, they can end up being your snuffaluffagus. You do a lot by yourself and no one sees your partner. Weekends. Holidays. Birthdays. Major life events. Sometimes even giving birth or having miscarriages. A doctor’s schedule always rules and you just have to go with it. 

If you have kids, flexibility will become your superpower (and not in the fun way). Children’s activities can’t wait for their doctor mom/dad to pick up Susie when they need to help a patient instead. Who’s going to do it then? You? A friend? Grandma or Grandpa? These situations arise more often than you think. Being flexible is the only way to adapt, this is why so many physician spouses/partners decide to stay home or work from home with their children. It’s very difficult to work in a demanding office setting when your plans for the day can shift in a heartbeat.

Holidays and special events may be spent alone. If your spouse/partner works in the ER or is on call, you can’t plan on having the same traditions at the same time every year. If you have kids or want to have kids, don’t focus on what they’re missing. If you ingrain in them the same kind of understanding and flexibility you practice, then missing or being late for holidays and special occasions won’t be considered a huge disappointment.

You’re not taken seriously unless you’re bleeding from your ears. I’m married to an emergency doctor, so this is also tongue in cheek. Kind of. Doctors see many things that are (most of the time) SO much worse than the thing you’re asking for their opinion on. They know from experience that whatever you’re showing them isn’t that big of a deal and they, albeit unintentionally, blow you off when you believe whatever is wrong will bring you certain death. 

Sometimes the ER is your kitchen table. It’s been said, and I can attest, that a big benefit of marrying a doctor is that it can sometimes save you a trip to the ER. We’ve had more than a handful of big tumbles, followed by small lacerations, taken care of with the smooth hands of our trusted (and handsome) in-house ER doc. 

Dates may be during the week. Some physicians’ schedules require adaptability and spontaneity if you want any time to ‘date’ your spouse. Time together can be especially difficult if both spouses are working (which is a whole other story because it can be very hard for both spouses to work with a doctor’s schedule + little children). Your traditional weekend dates aren’t always an option, so you must be creative with the time you have together. Lunches, happy hours, hikes, wineries, even yard work (sexy, I know). All options are on the table if you make dating a priority.

Medical TV shows will never be the same. Gone are the days when you could watch a hospital-based TV series without commentary. Watching one of these shows with a doctor is sure to end in comments like, “That’s ridiculous”, “That never happens”, or “This show is so dramatic.” If watching these kinds of shows is your guilty pleasure, then do it when they’re at work. Otherwise, doctors suck the joy out of medical TV dramas. 

A lot of love and a ton of support.  There’s still a long list of other things we could talk about. Surgical tools throughout the house. Their ability to sleep at any time and anywhere. The loads and loads of scrubs. And bleach. Earplugs in the freezer. But all kidding aside, if you’re marrying a doctor, the biggest things required are a lot of love and a ton of support. 

If you’re with someone in medical school or residency, you’ll be with them during perhaps the most stressful time in their career. They take on a load of debt. They work long days and long nights. There are many, many hours of studying, learning, and testing. They’ll learn how to celebrate big wins and cope with heartbreaking losses. 

“You and your home are their soft place to land.”

Some of this doesn’t change when they’re finished with residency. They still need a lot of love and a ton of support. Depending on their specialty, they continue with long hours at the hospital or in practice. They come home in need of a listening ear after a bad day. They feel the joy of healing and the deep sadness of losing a patient after they tried their very best to save their life. They feel guilt because they’re missing another holiday, birthday, or major life event. On top of all of that, they’re working very hard to pay off that $350k in medical school debt. 

How do you fit in? 

Your role is to love and support them. You and your home are their soft place to land. They need your comfort and understanding.

You may also end up carrying some of their pain and guilt, solely to relieve theirs. You may need to move away from your family, friends, community, and career to support them during residency (and even when they’re done with training). You may wake up in the middle of the night, wondering if they made it home from their shift yet and hoping they’re safe. You may end up celebrating major holidays on days other than the actual date because of their schedule. Your job may take a back seat because a doctor’s hours & sick patients will come first. You WILL do a lot of things by yourself. 

You’ll also be blessed with a wonderful, smart, caring, and overall awesome man or woman whose job it is to help heal others. You‘ll probably have the ability to stay home with your kids if you choose, buy what you need, and if you move for residency, see more of this exciting world. All of these are wonderful things that not everyone gets to enjoy.

If you’re thinking about marrying a doctor, don’t let any of these things scare you off. You’ll dish out a ton of support & encouragement, but don’t lose the expectation that you need these things, too. You and your role are as valuable as the physician in this partnership. Without this mutual understanding, the marriage is sure to go south quickly. Be sure to stay true to your own identity and keep in tune with the things that make you happy. You’re in this relationship to grow, too!

Other Articles of Interest:

Dating A Doctor: 10 Traits You’ll Need If This Is Meant To Be

How To Support Someone In Medical Residency

10 Great Gifts For New Doctors

  • Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

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