Romance in Residency: Is Dating Even Possible?

James A. Miller, MD


May 05, 2015

It's no secret that residency is tough. Medical residents work crazy hours with little free time and almost never enough sleep. So it's not a surprise that residency can take a serious toll on our personal lives. For those fortunate enough to enter medical school or residency with a long-term romantic partner, the feeling of having someone in your corner can be a source of comfort when the going gets tough. The rest of us face a choice: Step out into the dating world despite our workload or take up the robes of a monastic existence for the next 3-7 years.

How is a resident to proceed? The demands of residency can make meeting new people, let alone planning and scheduling dates, feel impossible. And the obstacles don't end there. After spending 80 hours a week in an inpatient ward, what do you talk about with someone who doesn't understand your satisfaction after a successful digital bowel disimpaction? Even the perceived status of being a doctor can lead to dating woes. Many residents fear intimidating their would-be partners with their career choice. Others may find that their presumed income attracts unwanted (and misguided) attention.

For all the difficulties, the truth is that medical residents do date and build long-term romantic relationships all the time. There is no reason we can't all have that same success. Congratulations—you've made it to residency! You're caring, smart, ambitious, and successful. People want to date you! And if you're reading this article, you probably want to date people as well. What could possibly go wrong? Step one is actually meeting someone and scheduling a date. So, after your 16-hour shift, just head over to the local singles bar and see who you meet. Okay, that's probably not a tenable solution... Then what are some more realistic options for meeting potential partners?

Dr Emily Massey is a senior staff psychologist at Johns Hopkins University who also works in community private practice at the Center for Empowered Living, LLC, as a couples counselor. I asked Dr Massey if she had any better ideas for meeting potential dates. She suggests, "Instead of specifically trying to meet the love of your life, start with growing your recreational life, especially in ways that naturally place you in contact with new and interesting people." Letting your recreational life (such as it is) pull double duty is a natural way to improve your odds of meeting a date. Weekend sport teams, book clubs, or even regular attendance in some fitness classes can fit the bill.

Realistically, though, you're not always going to have time for these types of activities. Dr Massey also suggests online dating for busy young professionals. With a relatively minimal time investment, you can introduce yourself to thousands of young, single people who are also on the dating market. A lot of research is available on online dating profiles—seriously, type "online dating" into PubMed. After reviewing much of it for this article, online dating really just boils down to writing a brief personal summary, a statement of what you're looking for in a partner, and a few well-lit and in-focus photographs. If you'd like to delve into the world of evidence-based dating, then the review article written by Drs Kahn and Chaudhry is an excellent place to start.

Once you find someone, the next step is scheduling a time and place to meet. This can be difficult. You can make your life easier by scheduling a date somewhere near where you work. Keep it simple: A cup of coffee or dessert and a drink are perfectly acceptable first dates that don't require a lot of planning on your part. Showing up for your date in scrubs or with 14-hour-old hair isn't going to make a good impression, so give yourself time to shower and change clothes if at all possible. Keeping a change of clothes and some basic toiletries at the hospital or clinic can also be a big help.

If you are going to see someone regularly, you need to have a frank talk about your schedule. Dr Massey recommends that, by the second date, you should clearly communicate the limitations and unpredictability imposed on your schedule by residency training. If you're seeing someone regularly, sharing your work schedules can help to create some predictability.


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