Make it Work (Acknowledging the Significance of Your Significant Other)

Medical school may be the most difficult time of your life. You may have moved your support system with you or left them behind, maybe hours away.

Whether you realize it not, those people – your husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend and your family – must sacrifice for your education as well. Your loved ones may feel lonely or neglected, and they probably don’t understand why you’re too busy to talk. This is a tough time for everyone, but there are ways to keep your relationships strong.

You need to have conversations with these people about what medical school asks of you. Tell them how much you have to study. Let them know how long you spend in class and the amount of competition you’re facing. You may have to say it over and over, especially if they’re not there to see how hard you work. You might use the military as an analogy, so they understand the type of immersion and self-discipline required.

Medical school expects you to put school above everything else. Sometimes you might miss weddings or even funerals. Your loved ones might be hurt and they might think you’re making up excuses at first.

Let them know you realize it’s hard for them, too, and that you appreciate their sacrifices. Tell them you need their support. Remind them why you’re doing this in the first place: to fulfill a dream and to help your community. Tell your significant other that this for both of you, so that your future is more secure.

Say, “I was fortunate enough to be chosen. This is what I have to commit. This is what I have to give up.”

These are some tips for keeping a relationship strong through medical school:

  • Introduce your new friends to your significant other so they feel included. If your SO is far away, send pictures of you with these people. Let your loved ones know that they are not being replaced but that it is important to make these connections because you need people to study and de-stress with.
  • If you find yourself attracted to someone from school, try to avoid them. Realize this is going to be scary for your SO already.
  • Let your SO know your schedule (when you’ll be in class and when you’ll be studying) so they’ll realize your phone is off and you aren’t just ignoring them.
  • Listen to them when they get upset about how busy you are. Respect their feelings and try to understand what they’re going through.
  • Try to talk everyday – even calling to just say “Goodnight” and “I love you” can make a big difference as to whether your SO feels like your relationship is important to you.
  • Do something that has personal meaning for both of you on special occasions, especially if you can’t be with them. Don’t just send a card.
  • If you’re long distance, do things that will make you feel like you are together. Watch a movie or television show at the same time or send pictures back and forth of each of you at different places.
  • Explain that you might have to study when you visit your SO, but that it will mean a lot if they are just there with you. Your SO could study or work or read or cook or anything that won’t distract you. You can both enjoy each other’s company while getting work done.

Acknowledging your significant other’s sacrifices is the long and short of it. Making sure that he or she knows that you appreciate their support and understanding and that it is crucial to your success is paramount. That without it, you would not be able to make this work and one of the things that you admire about them the most is how thoughtful and supportive they are in making this dream come true.

This is one of your first steps in becoming a great doctor… placing yourself in the other person’s shoes and seeing what it must be like from their perspective. Knowing that it must be hard for your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, parent or child to see you work so hard and not have free time to spend with them, and that it is not only about you…. Is HUGE. Not becoming angry and defensive, but reaching out and saying, “it must be hard for you” is a giant step toward being a caring, understanding physician that puts others before him or herself.


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