This is the first of several posts I hope to write over the coming years in a series I’ll call “Married to a Med Student”. We have now been married for ~6 months, and I have gotten to witness firsthand nearly an entire semester of medical school. Nathan is nearing the end of his third semester, and while I was with him frequently during his first two, there is nothing like seeing him go through it day in and day out to open my eyes to what medical school is really like.
I’ve gotten lots of advice from truly great friends about what being married to a med student would be like even before we were married and especially now that we are. My main takeaway from the advice has always been: You CAN’T compare to others’ experiences. People are so unique, and the way that one spouse might handle certain situations can be entirely opposite from the way we might. However, I do find the camaraderie a true blessing and comfort, and I know that I will want to look back on these days and remember what it was like. So in that spirit, I am compiling the following lessons that I’ve learned from being married to a med student, part one:
- Tests do not get out early. Unlike undergrad, and high school, and grade school, it is almost never ever the case for an exam to get done early. So no – don’t check your phone every five minutes for the last half hour before a test is supposed to end. It doesn’t make the time go any faster. And in that regard…
- Their test anxiety = your test anxiety. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. I am literally waiting on pins and needles when I know Nate is taking a grueling exam. In fact, I get more nervous about his tests than I ever remember getting about my own tests. Seeing all the hard work he puts into preparing for them just makes me wish I had SOME way to control the actual outcome, so learning to live without being able to has been a big lesson for me!
- The amount of studying is more than you can fathom. Studying happens year-round for med students. Here is a typical school day (non test block) for Nathan: Get to school by 8 a.m., lectures from 8-11, lunch + studying/catchup/making flashcards from 11-noon, lecture from noon to 1 p.m., lab from 1-3 p.m., sometimes until 5 p.m. If he’s done at 3, he’ll study until 4:30 when he comes to get me at work, then resumes studying until dinner around 6:30. We take a break to have dinner together and then he usually does some type of school work from about 8 p.m. until we go to bed (11ish). Now, for test block weeks, there are no lectures. So basically replace every class time (lecture and lab) with studying, and you get a glimpse into what it’s like. And this is Nathan making a conscious choice NOT to kill himself studying for exams…He could easily stay up until the early hours of each morning to study and cram, but he’s made it a priority to stay on a schedule with me and I can’t tell you HOW much that has helped us manage even the busiest times of med school. (There are usually about 3-5 nights a month* where I go to bed alone, which is AMAZING considering the circumstances.)
- They will always feel behind and will always be “just barely keeping up” with the courseload. If you’re lucky, they will learn to live at peace with this feeling. Nathan was warned early on that in med school, you learn to live with constantly being behind. Here is how a usual check-in will go… Me: So do you feel ready? Him: Well there’s always more I could do but I’m as ready as I can be with the amount of time I spent on it. Here’s the thing – I really do believe that in order to ace med school, you would need more hours in a day and the brain of all earth’s geniuses combined. I think that even if Nate were able to study 24/7, there is just no way to soak everything up in the time frame they give you. Which makes sense – the subject matter is super complicated and always changing! But if you’re living with someone who goes absolutely crazy at the notion of never being caught up, then med school will be an even more tortuous route than it already is. (This is exactly why, among many other reasons, I am NOT cut out for med school! In college, if projects/papers weren’t done about 5-7 days ahead of the due date, I felt behind. Sooo yeah…)
- Mealtimes become sacred. As I mentioned, in a typical day, dinner is often the window we have to sit down and reconnect. Another advantage we have is that our school and work schedules align enough that we are able to carpool together each day, so the drive to and from is also “us” time. Being able to have dinner together each day is a huge blessing compared to last year when he was in med school and we were long distance… We didn’t have these built-in moments of time to spend together, and taking time from studying to call me each night or text off and on took genuine (and much appreciated!) effort on his part. I’m so glad it’s easier for us to spend time together now.
- They will (hopefully) still make time for the things that matter. Again, I am fortunate because Nathan has really established his priorities and works hard to uphold them. We are at church each Sunday, 90% of the time we are at Life Group on Thursdays, and throughout the week we each usually make time for both a private Bible study and a Bible study together. Beyond that, Nathan also still volunteers to play drums at church about once or twice each month, which includes an afternoon rehearsal when time is, clearly, a precious commodity for him. When it isn’t test block, we usually have a couple social plans for the week and/or weekend with friends. He also makes it a priority to have date nights every now and then or enjoy a movie or some NFL football together on Sunday, which helps us stay sane (and very happy) no matter what med school is like at the moment. He has to work pretty diligently to protect these priorities, but I am lucky that he finds it worthwhile to do so!
- There isn’t cell service in the library and no cell phones go into lab. Enough said. But there is WiFi, so we are able to text when he’s in the library. And if a call needs to be made, Nate always steps out to talk.
- Study days are not fun for an extroverted med student. Nathan is an extrovert. No matter how many people say that study groups are a great idea for extroverted students, in med school, that’s just not a practical suggestion. The work is so individual, and while you may be surrounded by other people studying intensely, it’s not the recharging social effect that extroverts need. This compounds the test block despair, and by the end, getting out with some friends is one of the first things I try to make certain we do. (After he has woken up from the necessary coma of rest, of course 😉 )
- Coffee is liquid gold. Our Keurig is our hero. Easily THE most used appliance in our house is the Keurig. It’s on at 7 a.m. to brew Nathan a venti of coffee, and it’s on again soon after we walk in the door after work. Between my hot tea obsession and his med school schedule, having the Keurig and a stocked pantry of coffee and tea makes our world go ’round.
- There are small ways to help. While I can’t control his test outcomes (probably in his best interests that I play no part in that) and I can’t memorize 400 flashcards for him (that one I’m not too upset about), I can do the little things that make the rest of his day easier. Between having good dinners to eat at night, prepping easy snacks for him to grab for school, and keeping the house in order, I can at least make some parts of his life simple. When med school is everything but easy, I like knowing that he’s at least taken care of throughout the day with good food, hot coffee and a nice place to come home to.
*Full disclosure: Some of those nights are a result of evening Colts games that I don’t stay up to watch past halftime. 🙂
I think I’ve blabbed enough for one post, but there’s still a long road ahead, so I’m sure I’ll be learning even more in the months and years to come. Who am I kidding? Of course I’ll have more to say 😉 Thanks for reading!