Doctors and Dating: There's an App (or Three) for That

Sarah Yahr Tucker

February 13, 2023

Pounding heart, sweating, insomnia. Surges of dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. All symptoms of a very common yet frustrating condition: Falling in love.

The prognosis is vague. A prescription pad and knowledge of biochemistry aren't helpful when it comes to relationships.

Medical training can consume decades when others are exploring relationships and starting families. There are few recent data on this, but a 2012 longitudinal study of more than 20,000 physicians by the UK Medical Careers Research Group found that by age 25, the rate of doctors who were in partnerships was far lower than in the general population. However, the survey showed that by age 36, the number of doctors in long-term relationships had exceeded nonphysicians by more than 10% for women and 20% for men. Medscape's 2022 Physician Happiness & Lifestyle Report found that 83% were in committed relationships, and even better, happy ones. At least three quarters of doctors in every specialty described their partnerships as "very good" or "good."

How should a single medical student, resident, or attending physician find happiness ever after in 2023? Sometimes Mr/Ms Right can be found in the anatomy lab or hospital, with sparks flying between students or colleagues. But for many in healthcare, along with millions of others looking for love, the solution is dating apps.

When "MD" Is a Turnoff

Dr M, a psychiatry resident in California who prefers not to give her name, hadn't found a life partner during college, grad school, or medical school. When she passed her final Step 3 board exam, she decided it was time to take the plunge. She signed up for popular dating apps like Hinge, Bumble, and Coffee Meets Bagel, but her dates seemed to follow a disappointing pattern.

"I met lots of guys, but it was incredibly rare to find another physician," says Dr M. "I found myself always wanting to talk about my life as a resident. More often than not, the guys would give me this blank stare as I complained about being on call or spoke about spending 12 hours a day studying for a board exam, or even the process of The Match and how I ended up in California."

Both of Dr M's parents are physicians, and she grew up watching how they supported each other through residency, exams, and exhausting schedules. A relationship with another physician, her parents told her, would give both partners the best chance to understand each other's lives. The problem was how to find one.

That was when Dr M saw an ad for a dating app with a cute medical name: DownToDate, a play on the clinical evidence resource UpToDate. "I thought it was a meme," she recalls. "It was this doctors-only app. I remember thinking, 'this has to be a joke,' but then it was very real."

She signed up and was required to provide a photo of her ID and her NPI number. Immediately, men began "requesting a consult," the app's form of "liking" her profile, and sending her "pages" (messages).

Dr Robin Boyer

DownToDate was created by another physician, Robin Boyer, MD, MBA, a pediatrics resident in Loma Linda, California. The inspiration came in 2020 during the initial COVID crisis. Exhausted from long and often heartbreaking shifts, Boyer was grateful for her husband's unwavering support. But many of her coresidents weren't so lucky. The women in particular talked about their dating struggles, and there was a recurring theme. They didn't feel confident putting "physician" on a dating site profile.

"If you're male and you tell people you're a doctor, it seems like it really attracts people," Boyer says. "But if you're female, it brings up a lot of stereotypes where you're perceived as too intimidating either as the breadwinner, being more educated, or having a [demanding] career. It does make it more difficult."

Dr Celestine Odigwe

Boyer met her husband in high school, and she had never used a dating app. She convinced a coresident, Celestine Odigwe, MD, to pursue the idea as partners. They began researching the market within their network and heard from over a thousand interested physicians, both men and women, heterosexual and LGBTQ+. They even created fake accounts on other sites to gauge how easy it is to falsify a profile. From these insights, the app took shape. It launched in 2021 and currently has more than 5000 verified users.

Branches From the Same Tree

Around the same time that DownToDate began, Shivani Shah, DO, a pediatric neurology resident at Duke University, and her brother, Sagar Shah, an entrepreneur, had a similar idea.

Dr Shivani Shah

At the time, Shivani Shah was a fourth-year medical student about to move from New Jersey to North Carolina. Friends who were internal medicine residents described the grueling reality of the early COVID pandemic.

"It was just horrible," says Shah. "You were isolated from your family, your support system, everything.... I think the pandemic really pushed us into realizing that this is a very important need, and sometimes it feels like community is lacking in the healthcare field."

The sibling duo developed ForeverX, an app for healthcare workers to find meaningful and long-term romantic connections. It launched in 2021.

Concerned that the medical field was "siloed," the Shahs chose to open the app to physicians, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals. "Opening up the doors to more communication" between the healthcare branches was a priority.

To prevent catfishing, the app uses a twofold vetting system. Each user submits a photo of their driver's license and a selfie that must match. There is also healthcare verification through an NPI number, nurse's ID, or a manual process for those without either. None of the information is stored.

Through personal experience with dating apps, Shivani Shah hopes ForeverX can improve on some of their flaws, particularly the problem of matches being overly filtered by preferences. The "natural way" of meeting people is not filtered, she explains. And while most people have a dating checklist in mind, meeting someone face to face might send some of those prerequisites "out the window."

"You can't really put into words how you feel with someone...the vibe," Shah says. That is why her goal is to get people off the app and on an actual date IRL. "Something we've discussed internally," she adds, "is, how do we make this experience that's virtual more human?"

She acknowledges that certain requirements, like a desire for children, might be crucial to some users. Many female doctors in their 30's feel the "time crunch" of a ticking biological clock.

Optimize Your Date-ability

"I think people either love or hate dating apps, and I love them," says Kevin Jubbal, MD. "I get to meet cool people and schedule dates from the comfort of my home."

Dr Kevin Jubbal

Jubbal, a former plastic surgery resident who left medicine to become an entrepreneur, is the founder of Med School Insiders, a tutoring and advising resource for premeds, medical students, and residents. His YouTube channel has more than 1.5 million subscribers, and he often receives questions about whether dating is feasible in medical school and how to balance a personal and academic/professional life.

Those who hate dating apps or receive few matches would do well to look inward instead of blaming the process, he advises. It helps to view the experience as a learning tool that provides feedback very quickly.

"If you want to find a really amazing person, then you need to be what you want to find," says Jubbal. "If you want to find someone who's fit and intelligent and well-read and well-traveled, you need to be that. Otherwise, you're probably not going to attract that person."

An App Designed to Help Single Female MDs

Ifie Williams, MD, a psychiatrist in Washington, DC, believes a wider dating pool is key ― provided everyone understands the situation up front. When Williams started residency in 2014, she was "as single as can be." She tried many dating apps, but they were extremely time consuming. Even when she set specific preferences, she found herself sifting through "matches" that didn't fit her criteria.

Dr Ifie Williams

"Dating nowadays has become almost like a second job," says Williams. "Just the amount of time that people are having to spend on apps, swiping left and right and then meeting people. You think they're interested and then you deal with all these games."

By 2017, Williams had invented Miss Doctor, a dating app that would connect female physicians and other doctoral-level professionals with men or women on a similar achievement level.

By definition, these people would not be intimidated by ambitious, busy women. They would be heavily screened and vetted. And one other proviso: they would have to pay for "likes."

Most dating apps charge a subscription fee. Users are allowed to "like" numerous profiles and perhaps not bother responding to many matches. By contrast, Miss Doctor accounts are free and include a limited number of "likes" to indicate interest. Beyond that, there's a price.

"We wanted to find a way to make people a little more intentional with how they like people on the app, so they give a little more thought to it," Williams explains. "So, we monetize it and use that to change behavior."

After an initial launch in 2017, the app had to take a back seat while Williams started her psychiatry practice and got married herself. She plans to relaunch it in spring 2023.

Male or female, there is general agreement that finding time to date as a young physician isn't easy. While DownToDate has had "doctor meets doctor" success stories, many users are still searching for "the one."

Boyer believes that career challenges are not a reason to give up. "There are so many single and available people out there," she says. "And everyone's deserving of love. Even if you only have an hour a week."

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