Surgery Residency: Advice From Spouses

In our conversation with Annaliesa Peterson about her experience during her husband’s orthopedic surgery residency, she gave real-life insight for anyone going into residency. 

Not only was she gracious enough to share her own advice, she solicited advice from other resident spouses she knew. It’s our hope that this helps you if you’re struggling or preparing for residency. 

Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Don’t wait for your resident spouse to make plans. If they can join (e.g., an event, home for dinner, etc.) great. If not, don’t wait to have a life.
  2. Have very low expectations, but still have expectations. You can’t expect your spouse to clean the dishes every Thursday night during residency. That’s unrealistic. However, you can still have expectations for your resident spouse/partner to be part of your family. “One thing he can do is manage the trash. He was always in charge of the trash.” 
  3. Make sure he has a job in the house that still allows him to feel like he’s part of the family and needed in the home. “I think it gets very dangerous when they no longer feel like they’re needed at home. Doing this ensures they feel attached to the family in the home.”
  4. Learn how to manage stress early on. Figure out how you manage and express your stress because you shouldn’t be taking it out on your spouse. It’s not going to get easier. It just gets different. 
  5. Find friends who understand how much money you don’t have. There’s no luxury in this life. If you can develop friendships  with other people in similar situations, the relatability helps so much.
  6. Start couples therapy early. If you can afford it in medical school, start then. Otherwise, start as soon as you can afford it. There’s no shame in taking a proactive approach to facilitate a successful marriage. 
  7. Be very aware of how you speak about your spouse to your children. Your interpretation of your circumstances and your spouse determines your children’s relationship and perspective of them. Kids pick up on your feelings quickly. If you’re speaking negatively about your spouse, it’s likely the kids will feel the same way. 
  8. Know that some hospitals don’t have great cell service.  Not only will your connection be unreliable, you won’t have a lot of opportunities to communicate while they’re in the hospital, either. If you can, make a plan to use the pager to communicate – and only in emergencies. 
  9. Try to schedule some family doctor appointments at their hospital. If it works out, you can pop over to their office for a quick visit to say ‘hi’. If you’re in the same building, people know you’re connected to your spouse and they tend to look out for you a little more. 
  10. Don’t ask when they’ll be home because, most of the time, the answer you get is not when they’ll actually be home. This not only takes the pressure off of your resident spouse, you won’t be disappointed when they aren’t home when they said they would be.
  11. If you can afford to outsource things around your home to allow more time with your spouse, do it. Create a budget and prioritize intentional time with the family instead of spending time doing chores. 
  12. Eat cereal for dinner. Don’t force yourself to cook every night. You’re not a bad parent if you choose easy. It’s okay. 
  13. Set up a regularly scheduled babysitting swap with other medical families. And don’t cancel if your partner is working. Use that time to practice some self care.  
  14. Get life insurance as soon as possible. The cost of life insurance goes up after you leave residency. Getting life insurance earlier rather than later is a good idea for anyone. 
  15. The whole “It Get’s Better” (IGB) thing is real. Life after residency is very different. Believe in ‘it gets better’. Hold tight to it. Especially during residency.
  16. Seek help from a therapist. Both of you. A lot of medspouses break down, especially when they feel like they’re failing at work, failing with their family, and everybody’s unhappy. Soliciting help from a trained therapist (and sometimes medication) helps you have the ability to rationally process what’s happening around you.
  17. Give each other grace. It’s hard to give grace to your spouse when you’re also drowning; however,  understand they feel like they’re failing all the time, as well. Especially in the earlier years.
  18. Say ‘thank you’ often. Whenever you can, tell each other ‘thank you’. Thank you for doing the dishes. Thank you for doing such a great job with the kids. Thank you for working so hard. Those two words have great impact.

Learn more about Annaliesa’s experience during her husband’s surgical residency in this article, Orthopedic Surgery Residency: A MedSpouse Perspective.


  • Elizabeth Landry

    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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