Recently, a prospective medical student in a Reddit thread asked me if I could shed some light on the topic of relationships in medical school. While I used to write for a TFM-style college site tailored towards partying and girls, and my writing style can definitely come across as “frat boy in med school with a major bro vs hipster identity crisis”, I am like all of you in some way or another. I’m a science nerd. A lover of music. A film junkie. Your everyday bar-dude drinking a Budweiser. A former college boy with a lust for life.
I try not to divulge too much about my personal life, but the aforementioned Redditor DrLaidBack said, “judging by your posts you seem like a bit of a player” and asked if I have ever written about stable relationships, prompting me to finally write this post.
This post will be a comprehensive guide to relationships in medical school. I’ll tell you about my personal experience. I’ll give you my opinions. I’ll outline the pros and cons of a relationship in medical school. I’ll discuss topics such as distance. And I’ll give you my own advice on how to make it work. This is coming from a guy’s perspective, but most of it is pretty applicable to all relationships.
A little background…
My life, like most, has been comprised of many phases and chapters. I was once a college freshman with a long distance girlfriend (cringing). After that, I was a enjoying the single life like any college kid until my senior year. I said hi to some girl walking home from the bars at 2:30 a.m. and we ended up dating for nearly three years, spanning my senior year of college until the end of my second year of med school. And now I’m single again. As such, I have experience on all ends of the spectrum.
My stance on relationships has always been this – I don’t need to be in a relationship, but the right person can be worth it. In the twilight of my joyful college days before departing for four years of medical bootcamp, I happened to meet a girl who did in fact prove to be worth it. While most people told me that entering medical school while in a relationship was a terrible idea, I proceeded and realized that they were wrong. It has not been without its speed bumps and tribulations (she doesn’t like competing with Dr. Sattar), but sticking with my girl was a decision I don’t regret for a second.
Finding the “Right” Person
I am of the belief that you should not go searching for a relationship. Don’t just declare a girl the love of your life because she has a cute smile and accepted your invitation to get a drink on Thursday night. Don’t jump immediately into a committed relationship after a few weeks of hanging out and having a good time. And don’t drop those three words a month into the ordeal because she laughs at your jokes and and sleeps with you. Take your time with a period of romantic foreplay before giving it up and becoming Facebook official.
Before going any further into the discussion of relationships in medical school, the number one most important question you have to ask yourself, is this the right person? The ideal candidate for a significant other possesses many key qualities, but also, the right person is someone you can see yourself with long term. Why would you date someone in medical school if you know the relationship has an expiration date? If you can’t see yourself with the person in question long term, save yourself the trouble and end it before you have to deal with a nasty breakup when exams are approaching. Nothing will mess with your focus like trying to study histology slides on a Saturday night while you picture your ex-sweetheart, Jenny, being force-fed shots of tequila by her friends and flirting with every guy she sees. It could end bad, so please heed my advice and don’t enter medical school in a relationship if you don’t think your girlfriend is wife material.
You will not be able to hang out and watch her favorite show every night. Many times, her texts will go hours unanswered. Is she okay with that? If you wish to enter a relationship in medical school, that person must understand what it’ll be like. You don’t want to deal with shit like her saying, “Stacie and Mike hang out all the time, why can’t you make more time for me?” while you’re in over your head learning the renal system. Before entering the relationship or continuing a current relationship into medical school, you must have a candid talk with your girl about expectations. You will be busy. You will have to miss some seemingly important social events. You will need to put your phone away and say, “can’t talk right now, studying” more than she’s used to.
If you wish to pursue it, just make sure your girl knows that she’ll have to share you with medicine.
“Long Distance Relationships Can’t Work”
So you have your sweetheart, she’s the one, you’re tight with the fam, you’ve been going strong for a decent amount of time. Ending the relationship before entering medical school isn’t an option, but — you got accepted to one school a few hours away from her job. Can this work?
I have never been a fan of long distance relationships. Personally, my girlfriend lives about two and a half hours away from me, meaning I can’t just call her up and hang for the night if I’ve finished my work early. This was a major concern going in, and many people told me that it wasn’t doable. Pretty pleased that I didn’t listen to them, because they were dead wrong.
A (mildly) long distance relationship in medical school can actually be the perfect scenario. A few hours in the car isn’t a huge time commitment to spend a weekend with someone. And because we are a few hours away, it’s already been decided that we can’t hang out during the week, so there’s never any uncomfortable conversation about “can you hang out tonight? how bout tomorrow? Thursday? You’re right there and I haven’t seen you in six days!”
I get to spend my weekdays studying my ass off while being able to look forward to seeing her on the weekend. We’re able to hang out about two out of every three weekends on average, which gives me ample time for both crushing my classes and spending time with her. In medical school, you are on a mission, and everything else takes the backseat to your studies. So if you’re a few hours away from your girlfriend, you don’t have to balance the two. Distance can be a blessing.
Dating Within Your Class – Doctor Power Couple?
The most important advice here I can give is this – don’t piss off a classmate. It’s like high school again. You’ll spend a significant amount of time with the same 150 people. You’ll sit in the same lecture halls. You’ll go to the same bars. You’ll inevitably be paired with everyone in small groups at some point. Dating someone in your class is one thing, but I highly advise you to avoid one night stands with classmates. Emotions can go awry. Maybe she thought going home with you when you’re ten beers deep after an exam was the start of something, but to you it’s just a one-and-done deal. Her feelings are hurt. She tells her friends. Everyone knows. And boom, you have enemies and a bad reputation. Shit, I knew a girl who was two-timing two different guys in our class. She’d have them over on separate nights. Then everyone goes out, and Billy sees Sarah go home with Bobby. He thought they were exclusive. And now he hates her. And him. Then Bobby stops by her place unexpectedly one day, and Billy is in her bed. Bad stuff, man. Bad stuff.
As for exclusively dating, it would probably be pretty nice to have a classmate to commiserate with. To study with. To share in the same struggles and joys as you. Someone who completely understands what you’re going through. A companion in the same position. It sounds nice. Several of my classmates have linked up, and they mostly seem pretty great together. So yeah, you can certainly meet the love of your life while dissecting the heart of the dead corpse in the anatomy lab. Poetic & romantic.
But still, you need to be wary. A breakup with a classmate would be hella awkward for the next few years. My take is this – If you find the love of your life and someone who gives you butterflies in your stomach and all that good stuff, absoluteley go for it. But don’t put pressure on yourself to force a relationship with someone in your class just because you think it’d be an ideal situation.
Nothing wrong with dating a classmate if you’re super into them, but dating someone outside of medical school also has its benefits. It’s nice to talk to someone daily about things that aren’t medically related.
What are the perks of being in a relationship in medical School?
Despite all the bullshit I’ve read and heard that “relationships in medical school can’t last” and “med school is a bad time to have a girlfriend”, there are numerous benefits of having a girlfriend in medical school.
Support System: Yeah, gotta call mom and dad once in a while, but you need a solid support system beyond your parents. Someone to call and bitch about your professor’s unorganized slides, someone to vent to about your workload who will listen, someone to share your joy of acing a test with, and someone who you can discuss your life with who cares. Having a significant other who is supportive, encouraging, who can lighten your day when you’re stressed, and can build you up when you’re down, is one of the best assets you can have in your journey. You need that person in your corner to keep you going. The Mick to your Rocky Balboa, if you will.
Connection to the Real World: Having a conversation that DOESN’T revolve around shitty lecturers, difficult material, and the upcoming test provides a huge boost to your mental sanity. Med school can’t be your entire life. There is a world outside of med school, and that can be easy to forget when you’re forced to live and breathe medicine. Get you a girl who can make you laugh, tell you stories about her day, discuss music and movies, and talk about life when you need to take your mind off of med school. For instance, I share all of my writing ideas with my girlfriend, she helps me brainstorm, and even proofreads my posts before I submit them. Hell, she’ll have read this one before I send it off into the vast universe of cyberspace. Without her, I’d have no real-life people to talk to about my writing.
Girls On the Brain: As Kurt Vonnegut once famously said, “make love when you can, it’s good for you”. Mr. Vonnegut is a source of endless wisdom, but this bit proves essential when you spend all week studying. Imagine you’re a single dude in med school – you study, you study more, you go out once in a while and get drunk. Hopefully once in a while during the few times you go out, you say the right things to the right girl and she goes home with you and you finally have terrible drunk sex to satiate your needs for the next two days before beginning another month or two of celibacy. Then you go back to having Pathoma videos open in one tab and PornHub open in another, dreaming about the next time you get lucky. Sounds shitty, right? Having a girlfriend in med school is dope because you won’t lose your mind every time you see a girl in yoga pants at the coffee shops when you need to concentrate on pharmacology. Nothing is more of a stress relief than not having to worry about the next time you’ll get laid. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, after all.
Time: Branching off the previous point, I can’t imagine trying to court a girl in medical school. You don’t really have time to hang out a few times a week with a new girl. And I doubt most girls will like the idea of you saying, “I had fun tonight, let’s hang out again in two weeks”. And you can’t go out every weekend. So unless you have a Floyd Mayweather like record when you go out and try to score, you’ll go sexless for long stretches of time without a girlfriend
or a solid FWB. If you’re a low-20’s dude with a high libido, you’ll have to go out and meet girls, go on dates, and all that jazz if you want to get laid. Ain’t no med student got time for that.
The Little Things: Again, someone who is understanding of your stress and time constraints is important. Someone who knows you’re insanely busy and willingly volunteers to do your laundry and tidy up your apartment is a godsend. Shout out to my girl for being a hero. This is big.
Something to Look Forward to: Yeah, you’ll see your significant other less than usual. Sometimes it can be weeks. But when it’s exam week and she’s coming to visit you for the weekend and telling you all week how much she can’t wait to see you, it’ll keep a smile on your face knowing that after all the hard work and coffees consumed, you get to spend a few blissful days of laziness, drinks, dinners, and some sweet, well-deserved action before getting back to the grind.
Less Hangovers: You’ll have nights and weekends off. I love going out and drinking as much as anyone, but I can’t wake up at 8 a.m. after drinking all night and workout like I’m 18. In fact, I’m useless when I’m hungover. So sometimes, I like to stay in and cozy up on the couch with a good movie when I have a night free from studying. One of the best parts about having a girlfriend in med school is that you can have a good time shacking up in your apartment, cooking dinners, and watching movies on your couch for the weekend without doing so alone when you want to avoid the nightlife and ensuing hangover.
It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, what are the drawbacks?
Certainly, there are some cons of being in a relationship in medical school. However, most of the cons are avoidable if you are with the right person. Can’t stress this enough. But if you’re in a relationship with the wrong person while wasting away behind your computer screen eight hours a day, it could lead to…
I Miss You: If you enjoy spending time with your significant other, and I’d hope you do, medical school obviously means less time with that person. Missing someone ain’t a bad thing, but if spending some time apart drives you insane, it’ll overtake your thoughts and wreak havoc on your happiness.
Stupid Fights: “Why haven’t you answered my texts? Why can’t you talk on the phone tonight? You blew off our plans for some stupid test, do you even care about me?!” As I’ve previously stated, a relationship in medical school is harder to maintain than a normal one where you get off work at five and your girlfriend lives a few blocks away.
Unnecessary Stress: You will inevitably get into arguments. All couples do. It’s natural. But, medical school is a bad, bad time to be stressed out about things outside of medicine. Your girlfriend is supposed to be a positive asset to your life, supporting and encouraging, an outlet to vent, and brightening your day when you haven’t stepped into the sunlight because you’ve been crooned over your desk going over notes since 8 a.m.
A Bad Breakup: Jesus, I can’t imagine a worse time in life to go through a breakup. Medical school requires focus and energy. If Katie gives you a call one day and says “I’m sorry, it’s not working out” because she demands more attention than you can give her, slipping into a heartbroken depression can mess things up pretty badly. You can’t be looking through all your old photos and running through various scenarios of her sleeping with every guy in town now that she’s single when you’re six lectures behind. A bad breakup can mean depression. Depression can mean loss of focus. Loss of focus can mean failing an exam. Failing multiple exams can mean remediation or dismissal from med school. Dismissal from med school can lead a mountain of debt with no degree to show and not-so-promising career opportunities. This can all lead to further depression. Deep depression can lead to suicide. Suicide can mean that your theoretical future children were never born. Your future theoretical child will never experience the joys of life. Think of the kids, man. Don’t date the wrong person at such a pivotal time in your life. (**I say this in jest. If your girl dumps you, she probably sucked anyways and you will meet someone better. Cheer up**)
Wasted Time: Say you do end up getting that call, or text, or letter in the mail that reads, “sorry I don’t love you anymore”. Have a drink. Mope around for a day or two. Then forget her. Your happiness should not be contingent on someone else. But if you date a girl for two years in med school and it doesn’t work out, you will have wasted a significant amount of time on someone not worth it. You could’ve studied more. Met different, better people. Don’t waste your time with someone who isn’t gonna be there for you in the long run.
As you can see, the drawbacks of a relationship in medical school are all outcomes of dating the wrong person. Don’t do that. Sure you’ll inevitably have some fights with whoever you choose to date, but unless it ends like the Titanic, having a relationship in medical school has more pros than cons.
How Do You Make it Work?
It isn’t as simple as pros vs cons. A relationship in medical school takes work for both parties. Here’s my advice:
Define Expectations: Before embarking on the journey, you need to sit down and have a candid talk about what each of you expects from each other. That shouldn’t mean you have to FaceTime every single night, but instead, making sure she’s comfortable with the fact that some days you may hardly talk, but you’ll call when you can. Text throughout the day if you feel like it. Ensure that you won’t argue about a single thing when exam time comes. Make promises to not sweat the small stuff or start an issue over irrelevant BS. She should know she’s important to you, but your schoolwork will take priority.
Talk When You Can: I really don’t see the reason to say, “hey we can’t text from 8-5 cause I’m busy”. In my opinion, as long as you’re not buried in your phone responding immediately all day, there’s nothing wrong with looking down at your phone for 30 second study breaks to update her on your day or send a meme or some shit to keep you sane and share a laugh. I think one solid piece of advice is to make short calls periodically. Driving home from lecture? Taking a ten minute study break? Sitting on the toilet? Give her a ring and talk for a few minutes. Hearing someone’s voice makes you feel a lot closer than simply texting. You don’t need to say, “every night at 9 p.m. I’m going to call you to talk for two hours” like you’re in middle school. Keep each other updated on your day. Call to say hi, good morning, or tell a quick story.
Show Appreciation: If your significant other is helpful, cooks you dinner when she’s around, does your laundry when you’re on your last pair of boxers because you didn’t have time, and shows up at your apartment with a case of beer after your exam, show appreciation. Don’t take that stuff for granted. Just because you are in med school doesn’t mean people are supposed to serve you like a maid, so when someone is doing everything they can to help you out and save you some time, make sure they know that they are appreciated. Reciprocate when you can.
Do Activities Together: Just because you’re long distance doesn’t mean you can’t Netflix and chill once in a while. Obviously the best aspects of movie night are impossible to replicate, but starting a movie together at the same time, texting throughout, and talking on the phone to share your thoughts right after is a great way to make you feel closer to that person.
Be a Zen Master: Oftentimes in relationships, there are certain “little things” that may annoy you or mildly upset you, but you have to let them slide. Pick your battles. Don’t dwell on past grievances. Arguing over petty stuff like who’s picture she/you liked on Instagram is for 19 year olds.
Avoid Cynicism: You’ll hear endless stories of failed med school relationships and have to sit through idiots telling you its a horrible idea. They don’t know you, your girl, or the dynamic between you. Only YOU know what is best for you. Every relationship is unique, so don’t let the opinions of others get in the way. You’re a team. You determine your own happiness and success.
Put in Equal Effort: Having a free weekend doesn’t automatically mean that they should drive to you each time simply because you’re in med school. If you’re doing distance, do the best you can to visit each other equally. Pay for gas sometimes if she drives to you. Don’t make her call you every time. Spoil her with dinner or whatever if she’s been good to you. She can’t be the only one making sacrifices. Sometimes you won’t be able to, but when you can, you’ve gotta make some comprises too or else you run the risk of her getting sick of your entitlement and ditching you.
Keep the Bitching in Check: Yeah, your significant other is a good outlet to vent to, but if you whine about how hard you have it every day, don’t be surprised if they get sick of you. No one wants to hear constant negativity all the time. Imagine you were dating someone and all they wanted to talk about is how hard school is. That ain’t fun for anybody.
Make the Most of Your Time: When you get a weekend together, take full advantage of it. Sleep in til 11. Make some bomb french toast for breakfast. Cook elaborate dinners. Treat yourself to deliciously shitty food. Get wasted and stay out dancing until two in the morning. Stay in and binge watch an entire season of your favorite series on a Saturday off. Drink three bottles of wine and build a fucking puzzle. Laugh as much as you can. And for the love of God, have sex like you’re about leave for a ten year prison sentence.
What About the Other Side?
So most of this post has obviously been written from the perspective of the medical student, but let’s take a moment to give some advice to the significant other who has to deal with their busy med student lover.
Communication Overload: You texted him at 4:34, and now its 5:15 and he hasn’t responded. Is he dead? Has he lost interest?? Is he with another girl?! No no and no. He’s alive, he’s still into you, and the only other girl he’s seeing is the female lecturer he’s watching through his computer screen. If he’s in a really good study zone, it’s imperative that he makes the most of it. Understand.
Be Patient: When he calls after a stressful day, put on your therapist pants, listen to him, and continue to encourage. Try to sympathize. Even if you don’t want to hear it, act interested in what he is saying. You might be the only person he’s spoken to all day.
Petty Drama: This goes for both parties. Pick your battles. Him liking a female classmate’s Instagram picture is not argument fodder. Taking a few hours to respond isn’t either.
Exam Week: This is the most important time in the medical school relationship dynamic. You can be selfish on occasion and demand a call once in a while, but if he’s distant, know that he hasn’t lost feelings for you. On the morning of his exam, wake him up with a big wake up text saying you love him and how you know he’s so smart and going to kill the test. He’ll smile. He’ll appreciate it. Bonus points: If your significant other is stressed out studying for an exam and you haven’t seen him in a while, send nudes. Instant boost to his sanity and happiness.
Be a Cheerleader: Act like he’s the smartest human being on the planet. Encourage him. Med school can get you down sometimes. Remind him of his own abilities and strengths. And if he gets an 80 on the exam when he wanted a 90, remind him of how proud you are that he’s succeeding amongst a group of the insanely intelligent people.
Help When You Can: If you want to win the significant other of the year award and cement yourself as a demigod that he can’t lose, offer to do his laundry, clean his place, or grab some groceries for him. It’s the little things like this that can reduce his stress, make his life easier, and prove to him that you’re the one.
Remember, you want your future stud doctor spouse to do as well as he can in med school so you guys can be financially stable and happy and you can afford to pay your future children’s college tuition. Think of the kids.
What if You Break Up?
Medical school is stressful at times. One thing I cannot fathom is experiencing a personal tragedy during these times. Death of loved one? Bad breakup? With an exam coming up? It’s a recipe for disaster. You must keep your head on straight.
If someone breaks up with you in medical school because you didn’t have enough time for them, how would they handle things when you’re in residency? Understand that if someone ends a relationship while you’re in a critical period of your career, you do not want them in your life. They were not the one.
Indulge in the heartbreak momentarily. Binge eat junk food. Drink a bottle of wine. Look at the old photos and bask in the magnificence of human emotion. Then move on. Every extreme emotion you’ve ever felt is a blessing. Reflect on it. Learn from it. Think about which qualities of that person you loved, and pay close attention to the qualities you didn’t like. Your next relationship will be better and someday you’ll look back and laugh. Focus on your studies. And remember, when you’re a brand new shiny doctor with a charming personality, the world will be your oyster.
Is it Worth It?
If you are on the fence about a starting or continuing a relationship in medical school, you must ask yourself these questions:
- Can you see yourself with her long-term?
- Does she understand what you will be going through?
- Are you willing to put in the effort?
- Does she often start unnecessary drama?
Reflect on these questions. Do some introspection. Try to view your relationship objectively. Medical school is NOT the time to entertain an unhealthy or chaotic relationship. And it’s one of the worst times for a breakup that I can imagine. But, if you’re secure in the relationship and you determine that she IS worth it, go for it.
There are many, many benefits of having a significant other in med school. If you have the right person, not only can you make it work, but they may in fact be one of your biggest assets in conquering this beast.
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