COMMENTARY

Marrying or Medicine: Does a White Coat Make Dating Harder?

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH,

Disclosures

September 20, 2018

After 4 years of medical school and 2 years of residency, my impression is that love and medicine can be a tricky thing. As a physician, I have dedicated my life to my training. That being said, part of being a human is enjoying the companionship of another human. In medicine, this is not impossible...just more challenging at times. I do want to preface this by saying that the observations included here come from my personal perspective as a heterosexual, cis-female doctor.

Many of my women friends in medicine have struggled to find partners. Most of us are in our 30s, and many men are already married. In fact, in medicine, it seems like all of the men are married. Some of our medical school classmates met in anatomy lab, fell in love, and wedded during the first year of residency training. Many of us single physicians are left feeling very single.

Delayed Gratification

Planning for the future and delaying gratification is what all physicians do best. Premedical students are master planners who have to study a lot and jump through hoops to get into medical school. But it doesn't stop there. Then comes residency, and then a fellowship or finding a job.

While many of our friends from college or high school are already making money, have bought houses, and have already planned for retirement, many young physicians delay these things to finish training. Instead of taking 2-week vacations to Europe or Southeast Asia, many of us are stuck in the ICU overnight learning how to keep people from dying. Many young physicians have educational debt equal to the cost of a house, but no house to show for it. Medicine is a gift and a privilege, but it takes a certain amount sacrifice knowing (or hoping) it will all be worth it in the end.

Love and relationships are no exception. Many young physicians are unwilling to allow a relationship to derail professional goals, especially early on in training. Many couples in medicine delay starting families until after training when they may have more control over their schedules and may be more financially stable.

Relationship Disparities

Of my female friends in medicine, many were married to nonphysician partners and are now divorced. Others are on the brink of divorce.

Could it be that women in medicine challenge the traditional male-female power dynamic? Could it be due to the commitment that medicine requires, which few nonmedicine partners can really understand or accept? Could it just be that it didn't work out for those couples, completely independent of medicine?

Any or all of those things could be true. But as an admitted generalization, it seems to me that heterosexual women in medicine have more romantic challenges than their heterosexual male counterparts.

There is even a television show about love and medicine. On Bravo's Married to Medicine, couples struggle with work-life balance, infidelity because of feelings of coming in second to a career in medicine, and challenges around family planning. One of the family physicians on the show quit her clinical practice to stay home with her children. This was a personal decision driven by her feelings of guilt for being at work so much. However, it is a testament to how easily torn between family and work some women in medicine can feel.

I've known plenty of men in medicine married to women who are more than eager to accommodate their husbands' careers, whereas I don't personally know a single man who gave up his career in medicine to stay home with the kids. Why is it that so many men seemingly don't think twice when they hear about a woman who chooses to do so? This may be for financial reasons, biology, or a persistent social dynamic that often exists between heterosexual men and women.

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