5 Keys to Maintaining a Healthy Relationship in Med School

Maintaining a healthy relationship with a significant other can be tough stuff. Add the stress of medical school to the mix and you can make a difficult situation nearly impossible. But ain’t love worth it?

I certainly think so. My story? I met the love of my life while in high school. I went to college in Connecticut and he in North Carolina. As if it were not enough that we spent all of college apart, we remained hundreds of miles away from one another while pursuing our graduate degrees. I (as you probably figured out) began medical school, and much to my dismay, soon learned that it significantly complicated the already difficult battle of dating long distance. The amount of time we had to chat everyday dwindled as my workload surmounted. I found it increasingly difficult to devote m y attention to much outside of school. Clearly, I was not alone. As the year went on, I witnessed most of my fellow classmates’ relationships burn to a crisp, a reality that I found far from inspiring.

Fortunately for me, our story ended happily. Four years after beginning medical school, I married m y high school sweetheart and am now living the happy life I have always wanted for m yself. It wasn’t always easy, but all good things are worth the wait, and needless to say- the occasional struggle.

So what are the ingredients for success when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships in medical school? I certainly found that keeping the following advice in mind was essential for the success of our relationship:


If it’s important to them, it should be important to you

In truth, this advice should apply to all of the close relationships in your life. Medical school can be all consuming if you let it be. It’s easy to become completely absorbed in yourself and your own life, in part, because your academic success somewhat demands it. However, just because you may have two exams and six assignments due next week, it doesn’t mean that your significant other’s birthday dinner or your sister’s ballet recital should take any less priority. Plan ahead and budget your time so that you don’t miss out on any special occasions. Your effort will mean the world to your loved ones.


Be wary of entering (casual) romantic relationships with class members

I admit that I don’t have much personal experience with this subject, but I certainly learned a lot about it from my peers. Take-home message: Medical school can be like high school for adults. Small class sizes and long hours of daily interaction are solid guarantees that everyone will end up knowing everything about everyone else. Casual flings often become the center of gossip and impressions quickly become long-lasting. It is wise to remember that your peers will someday become your colleagues, and anything you say or do in medical school can impact your professional reputation down the road. This is not to completely dismiss the idea of dating a fellow student. I’ve personally known a handful of truly wonderful couples who met while studying radiographs in the anatom y lab. But the unfortunate reality is that I’ve watched most relationships between classmates fizzle out mid-year, creating unavoidable awkwardness for all parties involved. My point? If you decide to date a classmate, be sure it’s worth something to you beyond convenience.


It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality

OK, so you probably cannot afford to talk to your significant other for two hours per night the week before an exam, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid talking all together. Allot some time every day for conversation (and the mental break will definitely give you something to look forward to!). Even if your schedule only allows for a 15-minute phone call, make it count. Let your significant other know how much you’ve been thinking about them even though you’ve had a busy day. Send them a loving text or email in between classes. A great boyfriend/girlfriend will certainly be understanding of your other responsibilities but only if you do not take that fact for granted!


Don’t be afraid to let them into your world

An undeniable fact: Medical school is a big part of your life. Not involving your significant other in this aspect of your life is guaranteed to cause a serious divide between the two of you. Invite him/her to social occasions with your medical school friends. Talk to him/her about material that excites you and assignments that are stressing you out. Make sure you treat him/her like your #1 fan. Appreciate your significant other for his/her patience and share the credit for your successes. If you find yourself lacking time to see one another as exams approach, consider asking your significant other to help you study from time to time. I, for example, asked my boyfriend to quiz me on pharmacology facts while cramming for the USMLE Step 1. As a non-medical person, this was a task that he felt comfortable undertaking, and it facilitated our spending time together. BUT while it is a good idea to integrate your significant other into your life as a medical student, be careful about going too overboard with this one. Remember that it is your job to reciprocate with conversation about his or her interests and passions as well!


If it’s not worth it, let it go. And if it is, cherish it above all else

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Medical school will test even the best relationships. A rocky relationship is only likely to become rockier and its chance of survival increasingly minimal. Bottom line: if it becomes more stressful than it’s worth, consider ridding yourself of the unnecessary complication. And if it’s the best thing in your life, treat it as such. Remember that maintaining a healthy and prosperous relationship requires devotion and attention in the same way that good scores on exams do not come without cost. But I’ll be the first to tell you that when it’s worth it, it’s worth it







Featured image from Flickr | shipul
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Sonali Bracken, "Almost" MD/PhD

Sonali is a fifth year MD/PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Her future career goals center on becoming an academic physician-scientist and translational researcher in the field of hematology/oncology. Sonali has co-authored two books, USMLE Step 1 Secrets, 3rd Edition and Evidence-Based Clinical Reasoning in Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, running, reading, and traveling the globe with her husband.