Can Students Date Attendings?

Daniel J. Egan, MD

Disclosures

February 17, 2012

Question

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I have a crush on my attending. Is it okay to date after my rotation is over?

Response from Daniel J. Egan, MD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons; Associate Attending and Residency Director, Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, New York

The first thing to know is that you shouldn't feel bad about this, because people develop crushes all the time. While in medical school and residency, a lot of your time is spent in the hospital, so it makes sense that you might develop a personal bond with someone you see a lot (eg, a supervising resident or attending).

There are some inherent risks in dating an attending, but before I get into those, let me interject this: You should try to determine whether you are having true romantic feelings or whether you might just be feeling admiration for this person's intelligence and skills, along with a bit of envy for their success (maybe more like a significant role model). Hopefully, by this time in your life you can differentiate between a "work crush" and a "romantic crush."

The first question is whether your institution allows relationships between students and attendings. Most universities have clear policies about this, and it's worth your time to check. The policy may be available online, or you can call the human resources department and speak to a professional there. Some institutions have a blanket statement prohibiting these relationships. Still, most people realize that these things may happen over time. In fact, I have several colleagues who are now married to or partnered with a former supervisor.

The main concern about such relationships is the power differential between you and your attending. Certainly, if you entered into a romantic relationship while the attending was still supervising you, it would compromise the attending's ability to evaluate you without bias. The situation could impede your learning and, most important, it could negatively affect patient care.

As for your question about dating when your rotation is completed, you will need to consider the issues I outlined above. Given the rotating nature of clinical education, you may never again have to interact in a way that a power differential could be in play. That is the key to this entire question. A relationship is probably fine as long as the potential for supervision and evaluation does not occur again.

If you truly feel like you are meant to date this person, and if you think there may be future professional interactions with him or her, you should speak to someone of authority in the school. At my institution, we are not prohibited from having romantic relationships; however, such relationships must be disclosed, and then schedules are adjusted to avoid student/teacher situations. Be sure to have your own institution's policies clarified before starting a personal relationship. Otherwise, both your career and your attending's career could be in jeopardy, and that is certainly not worth it.

Don't lose hope, though. Many doctors have had romantic relationships at work that developed into long-term partnerships. Just follow the "rules" and you'll be okay.

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