Life’s Next Chapter

Is it just me or has this year has just flown by? How is May almost over? I’m sure I’m not alone in my curiosity about this, but it seems to go faster each year. I know it’s been a while since I’ve written and I’m not happy about it, but I am glad to be back here now. Unfortunately, this post isn’t much about my travels or even my photos, it’s about where we’ve been and where we’re going. This year has been a whirlwind of important milestones followed by shorter than ideal periods of planning for major life changes. I may not have mentioned it, but my wife has been in medical school for most of the last four years. And if you’re at all familiar with the medical school process, you know that now is when all the fun begins.

This is where all of the important milestones have come from. Anyone who has been married to a medical student, who wasn’t themselves a medical student, can surely attest to the excitement, anxiety and fear that comes with the entire experience, but especially fourth year. Fourth year is what many refer to as the ‘easy’ year. Since my wife has chosen pediatrics, from my perspective, this has been an easier year from a schedule standpoint, no crazy weekend schedule or 24 hour on-call days. I get to see her every night, I get to spend weekends with her almost every weekend and we can take turns on who takes our daughter to daycare each day. After three years of relentless studying and crazy rotations through various specialties, I was glad that fourth year was going to be more about what she wanted to do than all of the other things that every medical student needs to learn and experience to prepare them for choosing a specialty.

Alas, fourth year is not all fun and games, it includes applying for your residency and hopefully going to many interviews at all of the places you want to call home for the next stage of your training. It also includes the Step 2 exam for licensing, Match Day and graduation, along with many other things that I undoubtedly overlooked because there was simply so much happening. Each of these milestones brings with it a collection of other tasks that have to be completed, whether it’s booking flights and hotels or finding a new home in a new city. Every student’s story is a unique and in our usual adventurous style, regular unique wasn’t quite exciting enough.

We made the choice to have our first child while my wife was in school and our daughter was born during the summer after her first year. Most have a hard time with first year despite the fact that medical students are already the cream of the crop coming out of high school and their undergraduate, and for some graduate studies, with high marks and are by just about any standard bound for success. Still, some will inevitably find that they have reached for the moon and fallen short. Most will survive and persist no matter what is thrown at them, no matter how many doubters there may have been along the way, they not only survive, but flourish in learning their craft to serve humanity through the practice of medicine. Our decision without a doubt made the pursuit of medicine more difficult for my wife and I’ve tried to support her in whatever way I can.

No doubt that the hardest job in our family right now is my wife’s, being a student, wife and mother along with all of the extra curricular activities that she’s involved in, serving on boards, writing a column, being an editor and she still finds time for working on her ideas that I think, and I may be biased but I’ve heard others say it too, will help many patients, far beyond those that fall directly under her care. The last four years have been tough, from MCAT to application, from White Coat Ceremony to her surgical rotation, from whittling down nearly 200 residency programs to a reasonable number of applications, from almost two months of traveling back and forth across the country for interviews and finally from Match Day to graduation. And there you have it folks, med school in a nutshell. It took so long, yet it now seems that it was over in a flash. Being a medical student spouse has been challenging. Having never taken on anything even close to what she has, I can only imagine the challenges and devotion to her craft that she has in order to keep going, even on the rough days, even after some terrible shifts in the ED, she persists. It is one of the many reasons that I love her. She can take it on the chin all day long and still walk in to greet her next patient with a smile. And for most of the last year, she’s gotten home from the hospital before I’ve made it home from work and she greets me with a smile, a hug and a kiss. She’s got our little one fed and dinner is ready for us. I don’t know how she does it, but I’m grateful that I have her!

She worked hard while I went to school and I finished my bachelor’s while she was in her first semester of medical school. I owe more to her than I’ll ever be able to repay and I’m happy to spend the rest of my life trying. I’ve worked since then and have had the good fortune of meeting a few people who have been in my shoes. We’ve been able share our stories and I’ve been able to get some helpful reassurances during the more difficult times. It has been more helpful than I’d have imagined it. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. When there isn’t a dedicated support group for your circumstance and you don’t work in a big city, it can be hard to meet people who can relate to what you’re going through. Happily, the residency program she is entering has a group that does just that, and I’m excited to be able to connect with others who’ve shared in this experience, both the good and bad parts of it.

I’ve also met a number of people who are either preparing to embark on their own med school journey or those who have loved ones who are attempting to do just that. I hope the knowledge that I’ve acquired and have been able to pass along has been beneficial to them. There is so much to know just to apply to go to medical school that it’s mind boggling and then you get there and the next wall is twice as high. But, with enough hard work and dedication, and probably a fair bit of encouragement, many will succeed and become doctors. We need them now more than ever, as our nation looms on a shortage of not only physicians, but healthcare workers in general. Don’t mistake this for a political statement, it’s simply a fact that if current trends in medical education continue, there simply won’t be enough doctors to serve all of the patients that need them, regardless of whether or not they have (or can afford) insurance.

Despite all of the trials and tribulations of her journey, dare I say, our journey through medical school, we’ve managed to have date nights, family trips to the park, the zoo and even summer vacations. We’ve grown in more than numbers, we’ve grown emotionally and intellectually. We’re plotting our future each day and adjusting our heading to reach it. For the next three years, my wife will be a pediatric resident and then she may pursue a fellowship, we’ll wait and see. But for now, we are excited to get moved to our new city and into our new house to begin the next chapter. While I doubt things will get any simpler for us, I’m sure we’ll adapt to the new normal. One thing that is now simpler for me though, it’s now a lot easier for me to explain to people what my wife does when people ask. She’s a doctor!

I could not be more proud of all that she has done and all that she has accomplished. While this is only the beginning of her career as a physician, it is a great start to the next chapter of our lives.

If you or someone you know is considering a career as a physician, there are a number of great resources out there. One place to connect with others who are going through or who have been through this process is the Student Doctor Network

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