Romance in Residency: Is Dating Even Possible?

James A. Miller, MD


May 05, 2015

What to talk about on a date is a serious source of consternation for many residents. Droning on about your PhD research isn't likely to get you very far...unless your date happens to be working in the same field. Where romance is concerned, likability is going to get you a lot further than academic achievement. But we residents spend so much of our time at the hospital. The fact that our jobs tend to be confidential, gross, and highly technical compounds the problem even further. Talking about a difficult patient (in very general terms) and how the situation made you feel is a fine choice, but try to stay positive about your job and residency in general, especially on your first few dates. Use discretion in terms of how much your partner wants to hear; some people get squeamish at the mention of a blood draw, while others will listen rapt with fascination as you describe the colon polyps you found in your autopsy case for the day.

As your relationship progresses, some of the techniques from the Gottman method can be helpful. Try to learn about your partner's profession, and share some basics about medicine. Taking even a few minutes to text or call your partner each day will also go a long way toward helping maintain a sense of closeness when you see one another infrequently. Be opportunistic with your schedule by going on unconventional dates when you can: A brunch date before an ED shift, a shared workout, or a study date at a coffee shop may fit into your schedule more easily than dinner and a movie.

Smart, young professionals face some unique challenges in the dating world, and most of these are self-inflicted. Our natural desire for intellectual stimulation rules out a large segment of the population as potential dating partners. If you're hoping that your partner will also be good-looking, funny, have a successful career, and maybe a long travel itinerary, your dating pool will be small indeed. At the same time, successful people are often surprised to find potential relationships ending after only one or two dates. Unfortunately, the skills that make you an attractive job candidate or a successful researcher probably won't get you very far romantically. We're all looking for an emotional connection from our romantic relationships. Leave your CV on the counter and focus on your dreams and aspirations rather than your past accomplishments.

If, after all this, you're still having trouble finding a date, you may need to loosen up your criteria. If you've been applying strict "rules" for age, body type, income, or height, being more open-minded can significantly increase your options. For example, a special education teacher with a master's degree in education is probably your intellectual equal, even if that person hasn't achieved the same level of education. Similarly, by considering potential partners who are slightly older or have different body types, you will discover some real catches.

Despite the obvious problems that medical residency creates for dating, there is no reason that residents can't have satisfying romantic lives. By making some concessions to our schedules and using some ingenuity in planning dates, it is possible to find time to date regularly. Residents can take a cue from other successful professionals by focusing on forging an emotional connection with their dates rather than comparing resumes. Most important, remember that the very things that brought you to residency make you attractive to others: drive, intellect, and caring for people. Do your local dating scene a favor and get out there and start meeting people. With some work, you can find the relationship you've been looking for.


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