How I’ve learned to help my spouse survive medical school

I remember the relief we both felt when he finally received that acceptance letter. To me it was a moment of peace and pride in him; for him, though, it meant the beginning of a very long journey. My husband went through two painfully long application cycles, and as each cycle gets longer and longer, it’s almost like hope fades with it. I would say to him every night that the hardest part of med school is getting accepted. Well while that seemed to feel like the case during the application cycles, that has not been his or our reality. During cycles, it’s stressful pulling the application together. Then it’s horrible worrying about whether a letter and interview invite will come, but the reality is that after the application is submitted, it’s out of your hands. Losing that control is hard to handle and come to terms with, then when you do get an interview that’s even more worrying about how you’re going to perform for a half a day.

Getting to med school, though, it’s clearly very different and the lifestyle changes very fast. Throughout the application cycle, we could go about our lives, other than a cloud of worry. This first year has been fantastic, horrible, stressful, lovely, overwhelming, and so much more all at the same time. A day in the life starts early, making sure that either he or I made his lunch and dinner for the day, driving him to school, running errands, finally picking him up, and then he’s basically locked in his office. Not too bad, right? Well, med school is sometimes very unpredictable, there will be last minute changes to shadowing, clinic hours, mentoring (at the local high school), and honestly even the exams. My husband often doesn’t find out when scheduled exams are until the week before (he knows the week but not the day or time slot sometimes) and last minute he’ll have simulation lab or a patient panel to attend. Currently, I’m only a Masters student so for the most part I’ve been flexible enough in my schedule to change things around to fit his needs but that won’t always be the case. All the craziness does get to us, especially when exams are coming up or he gets back grades. Slowly I’ve been learning the best ways to support my husband.

Communicate
This is number one on my list because you both as a team will not be successful if there is no communication. It gets tough because my husband forgets things here and there, but I have to remind myself that he’s doing intense work. Keep in mind this is not a pass for them, just pick and choose your battles. To help communicate schedules, reminders, and lists we really love the Cozi family planner or the Couple app. By the way, on the couple app, you can “thumb kiss” for when your spouse is spending all day and evening in the library. If you don’t know what it means, then I highly encourage you to download it!

Study Time
I am a huge distraction, which is why we upgraded to an apartment with an extra bedroom, so my husband has an office. Respect your spouse’s study time, I always burst into the office with questions or random reasons, and it’s incredibly distracting for him. Support comes from giving them space and encouraging good study habits.

Clean Space
When we disagree more, it tends to be when our apartment is a disaster. It’s hard for him to concentrate and it’s overwhelming for me to do anything, so the best thing to do is to keep up. Even if your home isn’t spotless try to keep their study space area free of clutter (it’s their job to maintain their desk!), I tend to pile clean clothes on the couch in our office because that’s where my closet is. It’s also nice to be able not to have to worry about cleaning up if they have a moment to spend with you. I try to take on most of the cleaning or heavy cleaning, but he also does the dishes and helps around. Create a routine and create balance.

Be the Dummy
My husband is a DO student, so he is tested on osteopathic manipulative medicine, which means he needs someone to practice on. I clear time in my schedule to make sure he can have at least 30 minutes to practice. Even if you only have 5 minutes to share, that’s enough time to have them practice an eye exam. A little note, if your spouse is a DO student, I would highly recommend purchasing a massage table, they’re affordable on Amazon. I wouldn’t normally encourage such a purchase, but it makes being a dummy that much more comfortable and allows him to practice in a similar way that he’ll be tested.

Do Something for Yourself
If you’re staying home while supporting your spouse, I encourage you to find something to do outside the home. I recently signed up for spin class, and it’s wonderful to be surrounded by women my age rather than being stuck in my apartment. This helps me destress and concentrate on myself because I spend a lot of time helping my husband.

Accountability
Help your spouse stay accountable. It’s hard to sit and study for hours so you might have to be a cheerleader for a minute or two.

Date Night
I don’t think we would have survived this long if we didn’t do date night. You do need time to breathe and spend time together. We wanted to make the date night day and time nonnegotiable, but that wasn’t going to work with his changing schedule. Instead, we aim for one date a month that’s a little bigger, and then daily we try to watch one 30 minute show on the couch. But remember accountability! Kick yourselves off the couch after that ONE episode, unless you do have time to watch more, binge away.

 

–RachelMarie Asaro

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