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Trials and Tribulations of Dating Medical Students

This article is based on my personal experiences dating a medical student and what I have witnessed of other couples in similar situations. A few things I learned along the way:

Every couple’s experience will be different.

Medical school is packed with new daily problems, whether the student is single or has been married for ten years. I cannot emphasize enough that your experience will be unique and all your own. Sure, there are tips and tricks from people (like me) who have already gone through their own stuff — BUT be ready to roll with your own punches. 

Planning or coordinating life outside of school is almost impossible.

Need an answer to whether your significant other can attend a family function a year from now? Do you want to know if they will be able to come to your birthday dinner (or even remember to buy you a card)? Prepare to NEVER get a solid, ironclad answer from them. Just do your best to remember that it isn’t their fault that their schedule changes every semester or with each new rotation. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that it is frustrating when you are trying to book travel or submit an RSVP. The best advice I can give is to prepare to do everything alone. That way you will never be disappointed when they cannot join you. Also, in some cases, it is for the best that they do not attend the social event as they can be rather cranky around test time. Speaking of that…

Medical students act crazy around exam time.

Boy oh boy are you in for some theatrics before and after exams! You will likely never again witness the extreme highs and lows from your significant other that they will have as they prepare for their board exam. Every semester is its own Shakespearean drama, with new body parts and drug names for them to curse at under their breath. Not only might they barely shower or cut their hair in the weeks before an exam… sometimes you’ll probably even need to remind them to eat! 

After their exam mania, the post-exam grade flip-flop begins: 

  • Post-exam hour 1: I failed that exam.
  • Post-exam hour 2: I think I passed the exam.
  • Post-exam hour 3: I am slightly intoxicated now, so I don’t give a **** about that exam.
  • Post-exam hour 4: I will never become a doctor, I am doomed!
  • Post-exam hour 5: The exam will be curved so I will be okay!
  • Post-exam hour 6: I am sleep-deprived, so my significant other has forced me to go to bed. 

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Exam scores can be problematic.

Sadly, not everyone will receive the scores they want and/or need. Since the exams they take are extremely difficult and competitive, it is normal to have a few busts. Honestly, I never cared about my significant other’s score, just so long as he passed. They usually feel differently however. In these situations, it’s imperative to remind them that an exam score does not define who they are or what their careers will be. Most often, they are upset because they feel they’ve let you down with a low score. So, simply remind them that no matter what scores they receive, you will still love them the same. After things have cooled down, help your significant other create a plan so that they can easily determine what their next move will be. Sometimes all they need is a minor adjustment to their study habits or a different approach to the test questions. In time and given thought and effort, scores typically do improve. 

Do not plan anything important for the day of or the day after an exam.

I, along with many others, had to learn this the hard way. It seems reasonable that after you have patiently waited for four weeks or more for the exam to be over, that your girlfriend/boyfriend would be ready to do something fun together. Not so! For the sake of your relationship, let them have at least half a day to unwind. They will be exhausted and/or hungover after exams so never try to plan anything too important. You might very well be sadly disappointed when they fall asleep in the car on the way to your dinner date. Save yourself the trouble and wait a day to do something romantic. 

Social settings with medical students can = BORING. Try this!

Medical students LOVE to talk to other medical students about medical topics. SNOOZE. To combat extreme boredom, it is crucial that you have your own friends, preferably ones who are not in medical school. Invite them to join the party if you will be the only non-medical student at a social gathering. Those of us not in the medical field ARE intelligent enough to follow along or participate in conversations about medicine, but we tend to grow very tired of conversations monopolized by the subject. So, instead of being bored to tears by your partner and the other medical students at the bar, bring along your own friends to chat with. 

All the bull**** is worth it… eventually.

My experience as a medical student’s significant other has been both miserable and beautiful at the same time. It is truly amazing to witness the person you care for succeed in following their dreams. To see their countless hours of studying pay off will make you ecstatic! Furthermore, know that their success is due in part to the sacrifices YOU made, whether you took on more household or income responsibilities or put their emotional and mental needs in front of your own (literally for years). Above all, the happiest part for me so far has been seeing my partner find a field of medicine that he loves. I saw it in his face when he came home from the hospital and heard it in his voice when he discussed his day… I just knew. All the difficult parts of medical school (and there are many) only serve to make moments like those that much more special.

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