Tips for Dating Medical Students

Amber, who writes at The Unconventional Doctor's Wife, was kind enough to write a guest post for The Hero Complex. She has been married to her physician husband for over 11 years, and has been by his side through the MCAT, medical school applications, residency, and two fellowships. If there was anyone qualified to write this kind of post, it was her. Make sure to hop on over to her site and/or leave comments and questions below.  When A asked me to write a guest post on tips for dating medical students, my first thought was “dating in med school? I could give you 100 reasons not to do that!” But alas, everyone is looking for their Mr. Right…or Mrs. Right…or in this case, Dr. Right? So, I will give you my best.

Any relationship takes work. We all know that. But when you add the demands and stress of medical school it makes things a little more tricky. If you insist on dragging someone into this mess, there are four things you need to know…and when I say you, I mean the both of you, the medical student and the dating partner.

If you can understand and apply these four tips, you will eliminate a lot of unnecessary headaches and drama heartache.

1. This is not normal

Medical Student: Just to be clear and make sure you understand… this journey you are on, is so far from normal, it’s not even funny. For the next seven to eleven years, your life will look nothing like normal. You will miss out on spontaneous weekends with friends, family events, reunions, vacations and more. I’m assuming you were already aware of the fact you did not sign up for a 9-5 job, at least not yet…if ever. So adding another person to the mix? It’s anything but a normal relationship.

Dating Partner:  It is critical you understand that this relationship is not like any other. So stop comparing yours with your friends’ or anyone else for that matter. There will be much sacrificing on your end. You need to understand that med students will never feel like they have studied enough. Never. Ever. It’s ridiculous. The 3rd year is a preview of residency. The rotation schedules are not flexible.  Be prepared to be the one that bends, and then bends again and again and again throughout this entire journey…And then again.

The sooner you both understand this unfortunate unique life, the less bumpy it will be. Well, honestly, there will always be bumps… but now, at least you know what you signed up for.

2. Expectations will always disappoint

Dating Partner:  This may be the most important advice you ever receive:

Drop any and all expectations now.

“What? That’s not fair!” you say?  You’re so right. It’s not fair. And it won’t be for a long time.  That just comes with the territory of dating someone during their medical training years. They have worked incredibly hard to get where they are (and I’m sure you have too), but unfortunately, their schedules (especially 3rd year and residency) do not flex for anyone else in their life. I’m not kidding. That’s not their choice…it’s just the way it is. And yeah, it stinks. So if they tell you they will meet you for dinner at 6:30pm, do not expect that to really happen… or at least bring a friend, just in case, so you don’t end up dining alone.

Medical Student:  This may come as a shock, but do not forget what I’m about to tell you:

The world does not revolve around you.

You may have been told or feel otherwise, but that is a lie. If you have decided to involve someone on your crazy doctor journey, then you need to sacrifice a little too. That person has a life, a job, friends, family, and feelings too. Do not expect them to drop everything when you unexpectedly have a moment or day off. Yeah, it would be great to spend time with them, but respect their commitments and time away from you.

Expectations will be the root of many arguments in your relationship. Do yourself a favor, and kick them out the door now.

3. Communicate!

Medical Student: You’re in school. I’m assuming you have a calendar with your schedule on it. Use it. Tell your partner. Write it down, sync your calendars. This should include all exams, study groups, study time, rotations, interviews, study time, study time, study time.  If something should change, let your partner know ASAP.

Dating Partner: If you have any important dates (work, events, family) where you would like your loving med student to join you, then please, please, please, let them know as soon as you know. Hopefully, they can plan their study schedule around it.  But if it’s during their 3rd year, understand that they might not be able to make those important dates. And as much as they would like to be there with you, it is out of their hands.

Communicating is so simple, yet it never is that easy. Work on being open and honest with each other. Be clear. Don’t bottle up emotions. But also, dating partners, don’t drop a bomb on your med student the night before their exams. It’s not good for anyone. (I may or may not have done that multiple times.)

4. Don’t forget about your patience {not patients}

You both are human (I hope), and humans mess up…a lot. Have patience with one another. Give each other grace. Forgive and let go of grudges. Learn from mistakes and try again. Tomorrow is a new day.

It’s probably is easier to go through these medical school years single, but knowing someone is in your corner, cheering you on, and sharing this journey with you, can be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.

Just remember to not compare yourself to other couples, understanding your relationship is unique. Respect one another’s time and keep expectations low by communicating honestly and openly. Remember, you’re on this journey together, and are both figuring it out as you go.

Dating in medical school is a preview for what’s to come (if you decide to get married and venture into residency and fellowship).  So…if you cannot handle it now, then get the heck out while you still can. Otherwise, proceed and enjoy the ride. Good luck!

*** Bonus tip for the medical student: It will not kill you to take a 10 minute break from studying. Not. Ever. Sometimes that’s all someone needs to know you are thinking of them: a text, a call, a cup of coffee together, anything. 10 minutes. It’s doable.

*** Bonus tip for the dating partner: If this all sounds like way too much work and sacrifice, then go with Plan B: Go have a life for 7-10 years, and hook back up when they are a real, practicing doctor. You’re welcome.

{Full disclosure: My husband and I were already married when he started medical school. But we tried to make it extra challenging for him (because med school isn’t tough enough by itself), by having our first baby during the first week of medical school.  Yeah, not a smart move, but’s that’s for a whole other post. So, I checked with my friends who dated in med school and they gave me the OK on this.}