Physicians have identified ways to make it through the tough parts of their lives, according to a study published in the journal Academic Medicine.
The study, which was led by researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan, used responses from in-dept interviews with 25 individuals: 12 women and 13 men; 10 who were in a relationship and 15 who were single.
Four common strategies emerged during the interviews:
They rely on mutual support
The researched noted that many participants emphasized both the support they provided to and received from their domestic partner. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Any time he wants to go do something, he can do it. If he ever said to me, “I want to go to Italy for a week by myself” I would say, “Yes.” I want him to do something that makes him happy.… He is supportive of me in that he has hung in there, like all of my work trips and huge amounts of time at work and lack of being an interesting person. He’s really hung in there.
He is very supportive.… If he wasn’t willing to shoulder a large burden of the primary childcare, picking up, dropping off, taking care of them if I go out of town, I couldn’t do my job. And when I took the promotion [which involves] traveling and doing all that stuff, he was very supportive.
They recognize the important roles of each family member
The study participants indicated how they define their roles within their family and described the importance of role definition to ensure an efficient family unit. “Several participants felt it was an important part of their relationship to have clarity of their own and their partners’ responsibilities,” the authors wrote. “Having defined roles within the family and the knowledge that others must fill in ensured the success of their relationships amid the context of a medical career with competing demands.” Here’s what some of them had to say:
I always did the bills. And probably for the last 15 years I do the taxes, I do all that. [He] is the handyman around the house. He fixes things, he’s more the outdoor, fixing stuff outside and I’m the organizer.
Because many of the physicians and domestic partners in this sample relocated far from their families for their medical careers, they earnestly acknowledged the importance of support from extended family members, particularly in times of crisis. One interviewee explained:
My dad saved my marriage a couple times, which was remarkable, because he was kind of a shitty father. But my internship year, at one point, [our son] got diarrhea and then [my wife] had diarrhea and I was on call and the jeopardy [emergency call coverage] system clearly was of the view that your family all being sick was not an adequate reason to call in jeopardy.… I basically called my dad and I was like, “Dad, [my wife] is puking and [my son] is puking and I need to go to work.” He caught the next plane out and took care of my kids and my wife for three days so I could go to work.
Another participant indicated how support from external family members helped their family to function more smoothly.
My [husband’s] mom lives with us and takes care of the kids. We asked her to [move in] when we had kids. She was willing to come and help us, which has been great. She will help keep you grounded and when you are working too much she’ll tell you. And if we have to go in in the middle of the night, she’s there.
They have shared values
For many couples, sharing important values helped their relationship work. “These shared values helped many participants define the foundation of their relationship and offered a frame of reference when competing commitments arose or when they faced challenges and difficult issues,” the authors explained. Here’s what some had to say:
We both value the importance of raising kids, that’s number one on the list. [Number] two is we both value each other’s careers. We value each other’s opinions and, believe me, we do not agree on many things and we have had issues with that. But I respect her opinions and I think she respects mine. And we both bring, I think, different things to the marriage that we like and respect.
They acknowledge the benefits of being a physician had on their relationships
Having a doctor in the family is always a good thing and as the study confirmed, participants described how the knowledge physicians possess to care for a family member when ill or injured provides a direct and practical value to their relationships.
There is definitely a benefit to having someone who is not scared at the sight of blood. My son cracked open his eyebrow on the playground and clearly needed stitches. And rather than go sit in the ER for three hours and wait to get this thing stitched up [my physician husband] was able to leave whatever he was doing and meet me at the school.
Participants also noted the benefits of financial and occupational security associated with being a physician. One physician, Dr. Sims, noted, “There is more financial security than you would get in other settings.” Others spoke to the same issue. These physicians recognized that through being a physician they are often shielded from the economic downturn of larger society, which allows them to avoid relationship problems fueled by a lack of finances.