Welcome to the first post in my new series, Married to an MD! After seeing how popular the Married to a Med Student posts were, I decided it would be fun to keep it going now that Nathan is in residency. Personally, these posts are a great way to keep track of each phase of this process. It goes by so fast and all starts to blur together, so I’ll be periodically checking in as we experience more and more of residency life in hopes that these posts are enjoyable and helpful for you, too!
(And if you don’t care, come back soon for more food/books/life posts 🙂 )
Current Status/Background Info
Nathan started his INTERN YEAR mid-June after completing a couple weeks of orientation. He is an adult neurology resident and matched categorical (which means all 4 years of the neuro residency in the same place vs. other programs where the first year would be somewhere else) at UVA. The first year of an adult neuro residency is internal medicine, so he is part of a group of ~35 interns. Most of those interns are going on to complete internal medicine residencies, but a few (like Nathan) will split off after the first year to pursue specialties like neurology, dermatology, and radiology. (Specialties such as pediatrics, surgery of any kind, family med, etc. have their own programs separate from interns.) So year one: internal medicine. Years 2-4: neurology. A fellowship to further specialize in neuro would be an additional year after that.
Each rotation for Nathan’s intern year is 3 weeks followed by 1 week of neuro clinic. The work weeks are 6 days a week and the hours vary depending on what he’s doing. Clinic weeks are more routine, typically 7AM-5PM shifts with weekends off (unless you’re on contingency, which means you could get called in to the hospital at any time. But there are only a handful of those days that fall during clinic weeks).
Starting Off with CCU
Nathan’s schedule started off with a bang. His first rotation was CCU (coronary care unit or cardiac ICU). We had been warned that CCU is the worst of the worst in terms of hours, and they weren’t kidding.
Nathan was at the hospital by 6AM every day and usually left around 11PM for 6 days a week. By Tuesday of the first week (after starting on a Sunday) he had already worked 42 hours*. So…this was intense! Not to mention the work he was doing was incredibly stressful. We’re talking life/death situations the entire time he was at the hospital. It was overwhelming for both of us, but because residency was still so new, I feel like we didn’t know what “normal” was. We were able to roll with it as well as can be expected.
*Word to the wise – DO NOT calculate the hourly wage of an intern unless you want to get depressed.
There were a few days where I didn’t see or speak to Nathan (aside from a few texts he snuck in between patients). He left before I woke up and got home after I went to bed. When we noticed this happening, we made some adjustments. I’d wake up when he got home no matter what time it was and we’d sit on the couch/catch up/unwind together before going back to bed. It’s totally worth losing a little sleep if it means staying connected and supporting each other after a long day when the schedule gets crazy.
He’ll have CCU again later this year (and for a longer period of time), so here are some key takeaways to consider if you’re in a similar situation.
TAKEAWAY 1: Focus on sleep and quality food to fuel this rotation. Nathan needed to pack breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners with him on these days, so meal planning was key (and made it feel like I could at least do SOMETHING to help his day go more smoothly). Even if we were eating dinner apart*, at least we were eating the same thing 🙂 #longdistancedinnerdate
TAKEAWAY 2: Sometimes seeing each other will mean losing a little sleep. In the future on CCU, I plan to get up when he does in the morning (around 5AM) so I can see him before work even if I just end up going back to bed afterward. Try to find whatever windows you can to be together, because they are few and far between but just as (if not more) important than ever!
*”Eating dinner” is relative for an intern on CCU. Nathan would regularly be scarfing down whatever he could get his hands on while rushing to the next patient. There was one day he wasn’t even able to go to the bathroom until 9:30PM…after being there at 6AM. Needless to say, there are no “lunch breaks” when you’re an intern.
After CCU came a blissful clinic week, and then Nate started hematology-oncology nights. His shift was 8PM-8AM and he had Tuesday nights off. This was WAY better than we expected, but perhaps our standards were low from CCU…
Nathan was able to adjust to night shifts pretty seamlessly. The weekend before he started, he stayed up most of Saturday and Sunday night and slept during the days to get ready. Throughout the rotation, there were several days he got off before 8AM and was able to see me at home before I left for work. A couple times he even walked me to work, which was fun! He would then sleep until 5PM or so and then get up and have breakfast while I had dinner. We’d spend some time together before he left for his shift around 7:30PM.
Side note – Can I just say how much nicer the commutes are here? Of course, it helps that we live close to downtown and Nathan’s hours usually aren’t during rush hour. But even during clinic weeks, he regularly gets home within 10 minutes of leaving and doesn’t have to leave super early to get to work on time. As for me (with my walking commute), I have literally filled up my gas tank ONCE since we moved here 2 months ago. #gogreen #smalltown
With a one-bedroom apartment, it can get tricky to be super quiet during the day while he sleeps (on the days that I’m not at work), but Nate has always been a deep sleeper so that’s definitely helping! Not kidding, he slept through a fire alarm in the building across from us one day. Obviously, it’s way easier because we don’t have pets or a kid. I can’t even imagine what that would be like! We also had to get creative with washing our sheets since the bed was usually occupied by one of us most of the time. Minor issues 🙂
We learned some lessons from med school to stay connected during crazy schedules. One of our go-to moves is trading little notebooks with each other and filling them with notes back and forth. So he’ll take mine with him and write a note during one of his breaks, I’ll write one for him, and then we swap to read them whenever we’re apart the next day. (This is reminding me a lot of 3rd grade now that I think about it…) It’s worked well for us and I even finished filling up his notebook during this rotation. Lots of memories in there over the last few years. Time to get a new one!
Even though we had learned a lot from med school, Nate continues to surprise me by finding new ways to make me feel loved…Those flowers were waiting for me after his night “off” when he went to Kroger (open 24/7) and got flowers around 3AM while I slept. He struck again during his last week with these beautiful tulips – my fave!He’s a keeper 🙂 I also snuck some new beer from Beer Run into the fridge for him one day to surprise him. Apparently beer:Nate as flowers:Rach.
TAKEAWAY #3: Make the time you have together count and be intentional with it. That 5-7:30PM window was our golden window most days. We put away our phones and planned accordingly, whether it was just vegging out to Netflix together, cooking dinner, going for a walk, or talking. Make sure you’re on the same page about expectations for this time.
TAKEAWAY #4: Find ways to make the other person feel loved even when you can’t be together. Whether it’s love notes (or a simple and sweet post-it stuck to the bathroom mirror #beentheredonethat), flowers, a prepped meal for the other person in the fridge, etc…you know your person the best and can have fun finding ways to make them feel special.
Here is some advice for this initial phase of residency that is not specific to the rotation and more for the non-resident (aka ME!):
- Connect with others in the same situation. There is a great network here (HSN) for resident partners, and I’ve met some new friends through their groups already. It helps a ton to meet people who understand what you’re going through, are most likely also new to the area, and are there to check in/hang out during the crazy times. (Major props to UVA’s residency program for establishing HSN in the first place!)
- Don’t hold back just because you’re by yourself. Luckily, I’ve never been someone who is uncomfortable doing things alone or being by myself (I get this from my Oma!), and I’m so grateful because it means I have been able to do a lot in Cville even with Nate working so much. I’ve found a church, a small group, a yoga studio, dinner group, book club, and workout group. It’s hard showing up to something alone the first time, but once you’re there, you make new friends so you have buddies when you go back the next time. And everyone here is VERY familiar with the residency program, so they totally understand where you’re coming from if/when you’re by yourself a lot of the time. They have all been so nice and welcoming! Again, props to UVA’s program because I’ve heard other stories where this is definitely NOT the case for other places/programs.
- Focus on the bright side. It’s easy to think of all the negatives, but it’s key to focus on the positives. Nate’s schedule in med school wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, so when it gets bad now, I just try to remind him that 1) at least he’s getting paid and 2) he is making a big impact! Every day he is finally getting to do what he wants to do: be a doctor. Sometimes that still hasn’t sunk in all the way. Most importantly, I’m always grateful we have each other to lean on. Life would be tough sometimes regardless. At least this way I get to go through it with my best friend!
Did you make it this far? Props to you! I promise the posts in this series won’t all be this long, but apparently I had a lot to say to get it started 🙂 Thanks for hanging in there and I hope you’ll stick around!
What are some of your tips for being intentional about quality time together? We are all busy people with lots of demands so I’m sure many people can relate to this struggle!