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Care and Keeping of Your Partner (for Medical Students)

Medical students, as I’m sure we all know, are a very strange bunch. Some of us are more comfortable talking about cellular protein markers and tumors than our feelings, myself included at times. Just because we have to memorize all five generations of cephalosporins and all the bacteria that can cause pneumonia — on top of everything that can go wrong elsewhere in the body — doesn’t mean we can’t be the best partners to our significant others as possible. Here are a few relationship tips from a medical student dating a non-medical person:

  1. Little things add up. Try to do something every day: leave them notes, make the bed, take the dog for a walk  or ask how their day was before you start a rant about how awful and annoying your day was. Everyone should get flowers for no reason sometimes; yes, ladies, get your man some flowers. They love it. I’m sure you are rolling your eyes, but after dating for a while the thoughtful things can get lost in the routine. Make an effort to never stop.
  2. Make time for them. Medical school is crazy. We all know that, but no matter how bonkers my day is I always try to talk to my fiancé at least once, if not actually on the phone then a quick text works. If possible, carve out a sacred time for you to spend with your partner every week. Sunday morning is the time for Chris and me — I’ll wake up an hour or so before him and look at flashcards on my phone in bed until he wakes up, and we will have breakfast together. After breakfast, we separate and go about our day.
  3. Respect their time. I would say that is the biggest struggle for me; whenever I get a free evening or decide to take a break, I always want to do something with my partner. However, he has his own life and his own plans, which sometimes conflict with my little oasis of free time. So I have to be okay with being told ‘no’ sometimes.
  4. Have outside interests. While Chris loves that I can answer most of his science questions, it is also nice to be able to talk about art or music or other interests. The world is so much bigger than medicine! Don’t let yourself forget that.
  5. Say ‘I love you’ and say it often. Obviously, you have to be at that point in your relationship, but it is important and I don’t think that saying it frequently diminishes its value. If you are not at the ‘I love you’ phase yet, that’s okay. Let your partner know you care and are thinking about them in whatever words work best for you.
  6. Be involved with their friends and family. It makes me feel good that Chris actively wants to do things with my friends and family, and I feel the same way about his friends and family. I ask about what they’re up to, for updates if something has happened recently (like his mom was at the doctor’s and one of his very best friends has decided to propose), and try to attend events even if it’s just for a little bit. I went to his brother-in-law’s birthday party at laser tag, but only for one game because I was really behind in my studying.
  7. They love surprises too. Quit studying early one day and take them out for a drink or cheeseburgers … or both! Pick up their favorite coffee drink on your way over (my fiancé is a total sucker for soy lattes). Do a little chore for them while they are out — for example, before Chris and I lived together, I would load and run the dishwasher or fold that load of laundry that has been in the basket for a week. Again, being thoughtful and putting in some effort.
  8. Take care of yourself emotionally. Your partner is not your therapist. They are not the landfill for all your emotional garbage. I’m not saying don’t talk to them about your personal issues or to never cry on their shoulder, but it’s not their job to fix everything (unless they are part of the problem). The life of a medical student and a physician can and will be very emotionally draining. Make sure that you properly take care of yourself. .
  9. LISTEN. Just like there are gross and sad days for medical students, there are gross and sad days for our partners. Step out of your brain for a few minutes and give them 1000% of your attention, even on days when they want to share all great and happy things. They deserve nothing less.
  10. Support their dreams and goals. Another pitfall for medical students is getting so caught up in our own career trajectories that we disregard what our partner might want, and we automatically assume that they’ll come with us wherever we go. Just like they support us, we must support them and encourage them to do awesome things with their lives.
  11. Communicate with them. This is a basic one, but sometimes it’s easy to forget in the chaos of school. Your partner cares about you, they want to know what is on your mind. Sometimes being honest is really scary, but you are a grownup and if you know all the ways to bring someone back from the brink of death, then you can tell the person who loves you more than anything what you are really feeling.

Sometimes our personal lives can take a back-burner to medical school. It’s okay; it happens to everyone. Always keep in mind that your partner is your other half — they are not disposable or an inconvenience. If you realize you’ve strayed from the path of relationship righteousness, stop right there and start making changes to get back to where you should be. You can do it!

Lindsay Smith Lindsay Smith (3 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of Louisville School of Medicine

Lindsay Smith is a Class of 2016 medical student and an aspiring cat lady. Before medical school, she majored in photography. Her present interests include but are not limited to: pizza, Lord of the Rings references, bad puns, tattoos and sharks. She enjoys finding the humor inherent in the life of a medical student and the process of becoming a physician.