How do medical marriages fair? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being married to a physician? The University of Michigan Medical School (Understanding the Medical Marriage, Academic Medicine, 2014) interviewed 25 physicians and their spouses to discover ways for them to succeed. The researchers concluded that mutual support, recognizing the importance of each family member’s role, sharing values, and acknowledging the benefits of being in a medical marriage all had a positive impact. They also concluded that extended family support and shared responsibility can make a big difference. Physicians and their spouses face similar challenges in their relationships as the general population, yet other stressors are unique to the field of medicine. The importance of work-life balance is especially important to achieve fulfillment on both areas.
Over the last decade multiple and significant changes have occurred in the practice of medicine. These changes include an increase in corporate medicine, healthcare reform with new governmental regulations/policies, and the mandate for electronic medical records, just to name a few. All physicians are experiencing more stress and pressure to meet certain criteria, increase productivity, learn new systems for record keeping, follow specific standards of care, and maintain patient satisfaction. In my practice, 25% of my patient population are physicians, not surprising since the demands of the profession can be taxing on their personal lives. Most physicians are used to being in charge and solving problems even when their spouse prefers that they listen and validate their feelings instead of offering a solution. They may also become accustomed to others following their instructions and recognizing their knowledge and authority whereas at home the goal is to have shared responsibility and decision-making. Physicians are often reinforced for being unemotional, analytical, and logical in the workplace, but these traits don’t always work at home. They may de-value the role of their partner and not acknowledge their spouse’s contribution to the marriage. Some physicians don’t transition well from work to home either by maintaining their work role or by carrying their stress/worry about their patients home with them. In many cases frequent on-call coverage keeps them on-edge and tense which can be projected onto those close to them.
Physician marriages can work when couples communicate their expectations of roles, responsibilities, and decisions. Being a good physician and caring spouse requires a special effort to set boundaries, take care of self and family, and successfully detach from work when heading home. Lastly, remember that work shouldn’t be your only identity and valuing relationships can provide more satisfaction and fulfillment in the long run. Celebrate your success in your career, but don’t lose sight of the relationships that will enrich your life.