About 40 percent of physicians are likely to marry another physician or health professional, according to an AMA Insurance Agency Inc. survey of nearly 5,000 doctors. And with about half of physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout, that means many dual physician households have a heightened risk that one or both will experience burnout.
Having a spouse or partner who works as a nonphysician health care professional also increases the odds of burnout by 23 percent. However, a supportive spouse can help reduce stress and improve well-being.
Physician couples have unique struggles. These include dealing with medical student-loan debt and burnout from demanding professional responsibilities. When work factors catch up with physicians this can lead to emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a lost sense of personal accomplishment. These problems can negatively affect a spouse. But when the partner is also a doctor, it can also increase understanding and reduce stress.
Increased time together in the workplace
Many physicians will often marry other health care workers because of life timing and availability, said one emergency physician who married a pediatric oncologist.
“The times in your life when you’re seeking a partner happen to coincide very nicely with the time you’re in medical school and training,” the emergency physician said. “It’s a huge chunk of life, and your social circles revolve around that.”
Working long hours with friends at the hospital, especially during residency, may also stoke the flames for a new romance.
“All of my friends in the area were from work,” a female surgical resident said. “It came as no surprise to me that most of the people who worked there, dated there.” The surgical resident began dating a nurse, who is now her husband.
Two-physician families often face more of a juggling act than one-physician families, but generally succeed due to an increased understanding of their struggles and maintaining open communication. Some physicians report that they enjoy having a companion who shares their perspective and passion for medicine.
“As doctors, your lives are so incredibly busy that it’s hard to meet people outside medicine and when you do, it’s hard to explain why you really need to work on Christmas or go in at 2 a.m. for a delivery,” said AMA member Kavita Shah Arora, MD, an ob-gyn at Case Western Reserve University’s MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
“When you’re with someone in medicine, you have that shared language and experience,” said Dr. Arora who married a urology resident. “You share the same set of values when it comes to helping others and sometimes needing to put your responsibility as a physician above your relationship’s needs.”
There’s also a psychological and emotional benefit to marrying someone who understands the challenges unique to doctors, such as losing patients or critical life events.
Plus, there is an added bonus to having a medical partner at home because both partners understand the same medical jargon and this can ease communication about frustrating moments or cases at work.
Challenges for physicians to consider
While many physicians have found love and compromise among their colleagues, entering a relationship with someone in the health care profession has its challenges.
For one, if you and your partner have children, finding reliable child care that accommodates the schedules of two busy physicians can be difficult. It’s also hard to strike work-life balance as a couple, Dr. Arora said, adding that having “your heart and soul wrapped up in your patients” can really strain a relationship— “unless one also works just as hard at the relationship.”
And while many doctors have found comfort in their shared traits, being too similar has its disadvantages too. Physicians are used to being the ultimate deciders. But at home, married to another physician, that is not the case.
Find more resources for physician families and relationships at the AMA Alliance website and with Physician Family, the AMA Alliance’s quarterly magazine.