My dear husband’s ENT residency was five years long, and we did a lot of “keeping our eyes on the prize” to make it through that time.  I think we were aware that life after residency wouldn’t be all sunshine and lollipops, but like anything else in life, we weren’t fully aware of the unique challenges facing us until we actually got there.  He completed his training in 2010, and has been part of two different private practices since then.  He has been in his current practice since the summer of 2013, and I’m happy to say we are thriving as a family.  A few years ago, I wrote out some words of advice in response to some doctors’ wives who were just entering that enigmatic season of life after training.  My life is anchored by my faith, but I’ve tried to adapt my words to be useful to anyone.  These are some of the key things I have hoped and prayed for in my husband’s career:

For Healthy Partnerships

Joining a private practice is a lot like getting married.  A doctor needs to weigh many factors before deciding which one is the “right one”.  Personalities must mesh.  Call schedules should be fair, as should future ownership in the practice.  There are many details that might seem inconsequential, but if one of those details goes awry, it can make for a miserable work environment.  If all of those details match up to what the physician is looking for, all the doctors in the group are freed up to focus on what’s really important:  the health of their patients.  I have been praying for the relationships my husband has with everyone he works with, from office managers, to nurses, to the other docs in his group.  I hope, furthermore, that he can be a light wherever he is, and to always work with honesty, integrity, and excellence.

For Emotional Health

When I stop to consider the heaviness of everything my husband and other medical professionals take in each day, even each hour, I am weary.  They use technology, tools, and scientific knowledge to perform surgeries, prescribe medicines, and treat illnesses.  These things have their place, but there aren’t guarantees.  We have heard stories through the years of patients defying all expectations and becoming well, or making it through a surgery that didn’t go as planned.  We call them miracles.  What about those who also defy expectations, but in the other direction?  What do doctors do when their patients get worse, or die?  I have seen my husband seem to have the weight of the world on his heart when this happens.  I can offer few words that will comfort him, I can only listen and love.  I can try to help him find helpful ways to cope with everything that weighs on his mind and heart.

For Humility Coupled with Confidence

No physician (and no person) is strong enough to carry the weight of what he or she does alone.  Humility in the dictionary is the quality of being modest and respectful.  Confidence is the quality of feeling certain about something, of knowing on what or whom we can rely.  I believe this is a truly tough one for physicians especially, and even more so for surgeons.  If a surgeon goes into a procedure looking meek, uncertain, or downright terrified, what patient or medical staff will trust him (I’m sticking to masculine pronouns for simplicity’s sake; I know many superb female surgeons!)?  Meekness does not equal humility, and arrogance does not equal confidence.  Just as meekness is not a desirable trait in such a profession, neither is arrogance.  It is such an important balance to strike.

For Success in New Ventures

There has been a surprising amount of business savvy necessary in my husband’s career.  He has been the “new guy” twice, needing to build his portion of the practice with a solid base of patients.  He has literally gone door to door of other physicians’ offices to introduce himself, and the practice, in hopes of some good referrals.  He took a leap of faith in his first post-training job that didn’t go as we’d hoped—which led to another, larger leap of faith to move to a new city and a new practice.  Being able to learn from failure is critical.  The second time around, he really hit the ground running, knowing more how to meet referring physicians and to make a name for himself.  Staying in tune with the changing world of medicine is also important, as well as knowing what opportunities are worth an investment of time or resources.

A special note to wives of medical students:  let your husband or wife study as much as (s)he needs to.  Know that “your turn” for their undivided attention will come.  They love you, they wants to do well so they can provide for their loved ones.  They feels a tremendous pressure to succeed, and to make each test, each course, count.  Support them in word and in deed.  It is hard to put oneself last.  It goes against our nature, but it is possible!

A special note to wives of residents:  this is a particularly rough part of the journey.  This is where my husband became something of a lost sheep for a time.  Some of you might find this odd, but I felt nudges constantly to pray for him, and now that we’re on the other side, my husband has said how truly priceless my prayers were.  Residency for him meant nearly no time to nourish his body, spirit, or mind.  Running on empty for that long is almost impossible.  If your spouse seems distant, they might be feeling even further away than they seem.  Making the transition from hospital to home can be strange and difficult, to say the least.  Be available to listen, but don’t force the issue.  There was so much my husband just wanted and needed to keep at the hospital; it was too much emotionally and mentally to go over all of it again at home.   Also, remember that this is all temporary.

A special note to wives of physicians who have recently finished residency:  rejoice, be thankful together.  Keep your eyes on the big picture.  The world has much to offer, but its riches fade and do not fulfill.  Remember the days of little when there is abundance.  Keep encouraging your spouse to regularly evaluate and seek out how to use their gifts and calling to medicine.  Bloom where you have been planted, even if you are not where you’d hoped or expected to be!

And to everyone:  I’ve read it from others, and it bears repeating—“it gets better” is a phrase that can apply to any stage of life, and would also be more accurate as “it gets different”.  Perhaps more than our circumstances, *we* get different and better.  We learn contentment, we learn patience, we learn sacrifice, we learn to choose joy over mere happiness, we grow stronger and wiser and kinder.  Let’s keep building each other up and journeying together!


-Alison Phommachanh

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