8 Ways To Make Medical Training Years Less Stressful

In medicine, we have a super nerdy saying:

“Like an EKG, if life didn’t have its ups and downs you would be dead.”

It’s true, though. There are days that are better than others. Some days are downright awful.

For those in residency and fellowship, the hard days outnumber the easy ones.

Moving away from everybody you know every few years, being unemployed (sometimes not by choice), trying to match, a DrSpouse working “80” hours a week, and having to be a solo parent are just some unique challenges.

I know you have seen your DrSpouse come home after a 24-hour shift, collapsed on the floor while still in their scrubs. And you have had to shoulder all of the work in the family to make everything run.

Sweet friend, when life gets hard, you have to have a few tools in your toolbox. Here are some ways to help you go through this tunnel of training with less stress.

1. Give Your DrSpouse Time To Recover

Once they walk in the door, you want to hand over your chores or the baby and make them be a parent (after all, they signed up not only to be a doctor, but also a parent).

But you know the reality after a brutal shift: they’re a shell of a human being and disconnected.

While it’s tempting to make them jump right into family life, give them some room to decompress.

Now, I don’t want to conjure up 1950s images of June Cleaver taking off her husband’s coat as they walk in the door! All I’m suggesting is, leave them be for a while and don’t expect them to be anything useful. Once your DrSpouse is recovered, then they can reintegrate into family life in a way that will meet everybody’s expectations.

2. Know They’re On Their Way Home Only When They’re In The Car

I’m sure this has happened to you:

Your DrSpouse texts you from the hospital that they’re on the way. Then they show up two hours later. They got caught up with the last patient or have to write their last notes. Or somebody paged them last minute. And they come home way later than expected.

This happens to doc wives all. the. time.

The way you deal with that is you ask them to text you ONLY when they’re sitting in the car. Or better yet, just download Life360 app, which alerts you on your phone when they’re driving. Our DocWife.com household uses it and we love it. And it’s FREE.

3. Have A Tribe That Meets At Least Monthly

With a DrSpouse gone and family who lives far away, you need to find a local tribe. And I emphasize the word  L O C A L.

Online friends are a blessing. You can get amazing support, laughs, and advice online. Some of my best friends are online friends. But…they’re not sufficient. Studies show that groups that meet at least monthly increase your happiness by at least twice. You also need face-to-face connections to nurture you.

Nothing can replace the physical touch of hugs. Or babysitting your kids in a jam. Or giving you a homemade meal on your worst days like when you lose a baby, pet, or somebody you love. Or just letting you borrow a lawn trimmer.

I found my in-person tribe through Side By Side, an organization for medical wives with over 85+ chapters all over the U.S. It’s specifically for medical families who instantly get your life. I used to keep having to say “Hi, I’m new!” each time we moved. But the ladies in Side By Side always treated me like they’ve known me for years. My husband LOVES how happy I am after a Side By Side get-together.

In addition to Side By Side, you can find other excellent groups of people who meet up regularly at church, meetup.com, moms’ group, MOPS, library, gym, and work-related conferences.

Whoever you choose as your tribe, meet them at least monthly, love them and support them with all your heart. And let them love and support you in return.

4. Don’t Wait On Them To Have Dinner

Many newlyweds in medical marriages wait on each other to eat dinner. It’s what normal married couples do. (We used to, too.)

Don’t time your meals around when your DrSpouse be will home. Your belly will hurt, you won’t be able to care for kids on low fuel, and you will grow resentful.

Eat first and do NOT feel guilty about it!

5. Agree On Some Money In a Slush Fund That You Can Spend Without Accountability

Whether you decide to have separate or joint bank accounts, you should still have discretionary spending in his and her slush accounts. By discretionary, I’m simply talking about the ability to buy whatever brings you the most joy in life — whether a new top, a good haircut, a latte, a throw pillow, or a book.

After all, even when you are absolutely in love and devoted to one other, you won’t share the EXACT list of wants and needs.

Let me clarify a few things:

  • A slush account is NOT a secret account hidden from your assets (that’s bad for trust building) ❌
  • A slush account is NOT an allowance (that’s for kids) ❌
  • A slush account is money you can spend however you want and don’t have to get permission ✔️

A good place for a slush account in a high-interest account like Ally or Capital One 360 where there are no minimum balance requirements or fees. (Rest assured.) Then, do an automatic transfer of that amount from your paycheck into your slush account and then pay your credit card from that slush account.

6. Work On Your Goals One Hour A Day

You have goals you want to pursue. But with the responsibilities you’re shouldering like the dishes, meals, appointments, laundry, finances, work, kids — your bandwidth is very limited these days.

But don’t throw away your goals and sacrifice yourself on the altar of marriage and parenthood. Focus on just ONE goal and work on that goal every. single. day.

All it takes is an hour a day.

Read: 5-Hour Rule: If You’re Not Spending Five Hours Per Week Learning, You’re Being Irresponsible by Michael Simmons

Rachel Hollis, the author of Girl Wash Your Face, recommends to block off five high-quality hours (where you can’t be distracted by your DrSpouse, your job, or kids) and spend those hours towards your goals. Those hours can be spent listening to podcasts, researching what it takes to be successful in what you’re pursuing, networking with people in your field, or whatever propels you in the direction of your goals.

The key here is that you work towards your goals consistently.

“Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, it comes from what you do consistently.” – Marie Forleo

7. Have A Passion Project

Sometimes in caring for our family, we forget ourselves. But you are still YOU.

Nourish a part of yourself that has nothing to do with your DrSpouse or your kids by having a passion project.

This project is all YOU. It is what you will want to jump out of bed for it. It will use your strengths and challenge you to grow even stronger.

  • I have a friend Stephanie who is amazing at decorating cakes
  • Another friend Rachel Burgess writes and records her own music
  • Another friend Melanie has a ministry at her church coaching newlyweds in the first five years of marriage. (Most churches only offer pre-marriage prep before things can get hard so she’s filling a huge need!)

My passion project is DocWife.com and its mission is to support medical spouses and similarly strong, independent people — like you 😜

Make your passion project as little or as big as you want. Make money off of it or not. It’s up to you.

Whatever your passion project is, do what you love and do it for YOU.

8. See Your Parents Regularly

The medical journey may have required your family to move at the whim of the Match, which means you’re likely living away from your folks for several years.

While deep in the trenches just trying to get through the tunnels of training, it’s easy to forget that as time goes by for us, time also passes for our aging parents 😢

You won’t have a lot of vacation days or money to fly out while in training, but make the sacrifice to do so. If you wait until you are done with training to visit your family, your parents’ health may be poor. I have medical friends whose parents have early-onset dementia and they had wished they spend more time together before their illness started.

Live in a way that 60-year-old you can look back and have no regrets, friend. Prioritize seeing your folks and file away those memories with them in your brain forever.

In Summary

There are good and bad days like the waves on an EKG. They’re a part of life. It means you’re alive.

But don’t cave when it gets tough. Take some of these tips to help you go through it.

I’m a hugger. I’m hugging and supporting you, friend ❤️

To your strong medical family,