For as long as you’ve been with your DrSpouse, has anyone said to you, “It must be nice”?
Some of them are seriously happy for you. But some say it sarcastically 😢
Regardless, many people have a glamorous concept of what medicine is like thanks to media glorifying doctors in super nice houses with horse stables, elevators, and live-in help.
The reality of medical marriages is much, much different!
I wrote this article for people outside medicine about the realities medical families have to face. tbh, it was very uncomfortable to write because I was afraid to sound whiny. But a voice kept telling me:
“Just be honest!”
So that’s what I did.
I hope this post doesn’t offend anyone because I’m not trying to participate in the “pain Olympics.” Some unfortunate family out there always has it worse. My only intention is to dispel anybody’s understanding of doctors based on doctor TV shows. (They’re not real! 🤣)
Without further ado, here are non-glamorous realities of being in a medical marriage that we want you to know.
15 Non-Glamorous Realities We Want You To Know About Being Married To A Doctor
1. We’re Not Ultra Rich
We will be rich after training is over, but not as rich as Forbes’ “Highest Paying Job” article alludes us to be. Our real money situation is not as good as you think. We are behind one decade in retirement savings and have a lot to catch up.
The vast majority of us eventually do manage to save enough for retirement. But don’t confuse us with the extremely rich who can buy all they want.
Medical families who think they CAN live like the ultra rich are actually broke in the bank.
2. Our Student Loans Are Extremely High
Not only are we NOT extremely rich, but our student loans ARE extremelyer high. We have six-figure student loans with high interest between 6-8% 😮 And the interest starts to accumulate once they start residency with a modest salary, NOT when they become an attending with a large salary.
To visualize what those numbers mean, it means despite paying $3,000 a month on a $300,000 student loan debt, we will still see our principal rise to $312,000 at the end of the year. (You’d think the number would be going down if you’re making four-figure payments, but it’s not!!!)
Our student loan interest is an avalanche waiting to bury us. And if we’re doing it right, we need to spend at least 3-5 years aggressively paying it off, sometimes longer than that. That leaves us little money left to spend on nice things until those loans go away.
3. We Have To Protect Our Family Time
Our DrSpouses work a lot and we try to connect as much as possible with them. That’s why we have to curate our schedules and be protective of our family time.
Sometimes it means turning down fun get-togethers with friends 😫
We wish we didn’t have to choose. But there’s just not enough time in a day for all the relationships we have in our lives.
Our friends in medical marriages totally get this. That’s why whenever we come over to another medical spouse’s house and see their DrSpouse at home, too, we apologize profusely for intruding and try make a graceful exit LOL!
4. Our Vacations Aren’t As Nice As They Seem On Social Media
The trips we take while accompanying our DrSpouses to medical conferences aren’t as luxurious as it seems.
Yeah, the pics in our social media feeds look great.
But the reality is our DrSpouses are gone most of the day when we wish we could spend it with them. And if we’re bringing our kids along, it’s just solo parenting — but in a different location. We have to find food the kids will actually eat, a place to change their diapers, and our attention is pulled in all different directions without the comforts of home.
Love the free hotel, though! 🙌🏻
5. We Sometimes Have To Do Long-Distance Marriages
Some situations require us to live separately for at least some time.
For example, some medical schools and residency programs require out-of-town auditions and rotations that last weeks to months. Or physicians who are done with training take locum positions (think: contract work) that take them away from home for weeks or months at a time.
Another friend of mine is living away from her husband for one year while he does a one-year fellowship. She is a local news anchor and is tied to her station. One year apart is not too long for them and they will re-unite when he’s finished.
FaceTime is the best invention ever, though!
6. Resident Salary Is Not Six-Figures And Is Non-Negotiable
Many people think residents make six figures because they are doctors.
Sadly, not true.
Yes, they are doctors, but they’re in training.
The average salary of a resident is $59,300, according to Medscape in 2018. This salary is firm (non-negotiable) for all residency programs in the U.S. It’s actually a part of the Medicare program, not the individual hospital where they train.
7. Our Dr Spouses Work Lots Of Hours
Work-life balance is a constant struggle for medical families. While a 70-hour week is a LIGHT week for many of our DrSpouses, it’s crazy for some people outside of medicine. They also work during the weekends, nights, and holidays.
According to this AMA study in 2014, about two-thirds of physicians aged 40 to 69 work between 40 and 60 hours per week. Another 20 percent work between 61 and 80 hours per week.
We have many Thanksgiving and Christmas memories without them.
8. Our Dr Spouses Are Likely To Be Sued At Least Once In Their Careers
Studies show that a physician is 80% likely to get sued at least once in their careers. Mathematically, it’s basically NOT a matter of if, but when 😫
In addition, having to go through lawsuits puts enormous strain on not only our DrSpouses’ career but also our relationship.
9. Our Dr Spouses Can’t And Don’t Write Us Rx’s
Our DrSpouses don’t treat us or write us prescriptions. Not only is it illegal in most cases, but it’s also not safe because it’s hard to objectively treat family so a lot of errors could be made.
Just like everybody else, we schedule with our doctors when there are appointment openings and we sit in the same waiting room.
10. Our Medical Bills Are High Like Everybody’s
Healthcare insurance is expensive for everybody, including for us. It doesn’t matter that our DrSpouses provide medical care to others. We have the same insurance cards, pay the same co-pays, and have the same deductibles as everybody. That’s how the system works.
There is no such thing as “professional courtesy” if seen by fellow co-workers.
We do, however, feel a little resentment when friends who are married to electricians and plumbers get their houses renovated quickly and cheaply 🤣
11. We Are Unfairly Mistaken For Gold Diggers
Some people inaccurately and unfairly call us gold diggers and assume that we sought out a doctor when we were dating.
The reality is that we fell in love with their personalities, passion, values, and spirit. They just HAPPENED to wear a white coat.
(My personal story: My husband and I are college sweethearts. I married a part-time college student working at Panera before he decided years later to enter medical school!)
The difference is gold diggers want a life of luxury and ease and dig the gold. We dig the goals. Taking care of our families (while our DrSpouse takes care of other families) requires an enormous amount of sacrifice, resourcefulness, and hard work. But we are building a life with our DrSpouses as a team.
Teamwork makes the dream work!
12. The Match Is Unpredictable And A Binding Contract That Requires Us To Move Anywhere
Similar to how military families have to report to their station of duty, medical families also have a similar contract: it’s called the Match.
The Match is a legally binding contract and system that determines where our DrSpouses have to train for residency and fellowship. It’s based on a mathematical algorithm and the results are out of our control. Once matched, we are obligated by medical board laws to “report” wherever the Match tells us to move.
No take backsies, that is, we can’t “un-match.”
It’s possible for the match to take us across the country every few years.
Oh, and no relocation assistance is provided. According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the average cost of an interstate move is about $5,630.
13. Doctors Are At A Record High Risk For Suicide
It’s the saddest fact of all but burnout is a major health crisis for doctors. Every year, over 400+ doctors commit suicide. That’s among the highest of any profession. Try to visualize the equivalent of an entire graduating class of medical students of a state university who die each year.
All the stress and burnout doesn’t just stop at the hospital. Our DrSpouses bring it home, emotionally and mentally within the walls of our home.
14. Our Dr Spouses Work Holidays, Weekends, And Nights Because They HAVE To, Not Because They Didn’t Call Off
Just as anyone may need to go to the hospital at any time, so do our DrSpouses. If our DrSpouses work some weekends, nights, and major holidays, this is NOT because our DrSpouses neglected to ask off well enough in advance. They literally CANNOT ask for work off on some days per their contract.
We try to explain that to our in-laws every year wondering why we aren’t coming home for Christmas 🤣
15. We Watch Our Careers Fall Unnaturally Backwards
We have to explain to our employer why we have to quit and move every few years. Or we explain why we can’t travel or work nights or weekends because our DrSpouses aren’t available to care for the kids.
That’s why many of us end up becoming unemployed or underemployed 😫
For example, a friend of mine who was trained at a prestigious culinary school as a pastry chef became a cupcake decorator at the grocery store. Another friend who is a lawyer had to quit her job because she had to move with her husband unless she passed the bar in their new state. Countless friends chose positions with fewer promotions and raises.
For all these reasons, although we are accomplished and independent, we often watch our careers fall unnaturally backward over time.
So there you have it. Those are the biggest non-glamorous realities of a medical marriage, which hopefully dispels anything you’ve seen and heard on doctor TV shows.
Thank you for allowing me to speak my voice in the medical community.