The new medical year is just around the corner, and on July 1st a new group of previous medical students will start their residency training. The transition from medical school to residency is hard, but not only for the new doctor – for the doctor’s wife and family as well.
My DrH is about to start his PGY-2 year of residency, which means we will have successfully survived the first year of residency. Hallelujah!! And survived is TOTALLY the correct term. I’ve learned so much this last year and I want to pass it on to the new incoming resident families. I am by NO means an expert (are you kidding me?!) but I have learned a few things this past year that can hopefully be helpful for you. These tips can apply to both the doctor and his spouse.
1. Believe That You Can Do It
First and foremost, you need to actually believe that you and your DrH can do the whole residency thing! If your husband is starting residency in July I’m sure you’ve heard it all by now. People telling you how hard it is. That his hours are going to be brutal. That you will basically be a single mom. And you know what? I hate to break it to you, but those things that people say are all pretty much true.
And so yes, it’s completely normal to be nervous about taking the next step in your husband’s training, because it is hard! But don’t let any fear you may have overwhelm you. A little bit of fear or nervousness is normal – but keep it contained and somewhat at bay. Replace most of it with the belief that you and your husband can do this! Our thoughts and attitudes are so powerful. If you are both committed, not only to his career, but more importantly to each other, than you will both make it through.
2. Be Prepared for It To Be Hard
I know, I know, it seems like it’s totally opposite than what I said above, right? But hear me out! Like I said, you first need to have the confidence that you and your DrH can do this whole residency thing. Because you totally can! But also just be prepared for it to be hard. If you are prepared for it, then when it IS hard, you will already have been expecting it.
Like I said earlier, all of those things people told you about residency are completely true!
He is going to work insanely long hours. Seriously insane. He is going to be stressed because, for the first time, he actually has real patient lives in his hands. He will have moments where he loses confidence and feels like he can’t do this doctor thing. It’s NORMAL for him to feel like this – he is a brand new doctor!
And because of his long work hours, you will have to fill in the gaps and take care of pretty much EVERYTHING in your life. You will feel like a single mom a lot of the time. Most of the household chores and responsibilities will fall on your shoulders because he is working so much. It will be hard and sometimes you will just get burned out. But keep going! You can do this.
3. Establish a Support System
This one is SO important! It is crucial for you to have a strong support system that you can rely on. Your DrH will be at work ALL of the time, so never before have you needed a solid group of people to rely on like you do now.
So get out there and create one! If you are lucky enough to live close to family during residency then boom – there you go. You already have some people who love you and support you.
But if you are like a lot of us doctor’s wives, you will have just moved to a new city where you don’t know anyone. It is vital for your survival as a doctor’s wife to create a support system for yourself! Get out there and meet new people. Be the first one to invite. And just keep at it.
When I first moved for residency I had the HARDEST time making friends. Not because I wasn’t trying (I was TOTALLY trying!) but because the people I was interacting with didn’t seem interested in having a close friendship like I wanted and needed. They just weren’t as needy as me!! That sounds so pathetic, huh?! I have no shame. I think it was because their husband’s worked regular hours or they already had friends and just didn’t want to open up to new ones.
I quickly learned to not waste my energy on people who didn’t want or need a close friendship. If my efforts weren’t reciprocated I learned to move on and make new friendships. And now I feel like I am finally making those close friends – those friends I can count on and that need me, just like I need them! And surprise surprise – those people are other doctor’s wives.
Of course you can have friendships with people who aren’t also married to doctors. Some of my closest friends in medical school were not medical student wives. But try to have at least one doctor’s wife in your circle of friends if you can during residency, because they 100% understand what you’re going through.
4. Live Frugally
If you didn’t learn how to live frugally in medical school, now is the time! Yes your husband will be making a paycheck but let’s be honest – it isn’t a lot of money. Finances are less tight if you are working too, but it gets especially hard if his paycheck is the only one.
So how do you live frugally? Make a budget and stick to it. Remember the classic “needs vs. wants” way of thinking. Spend less than you make. Save for things you want. Learn how to cook cheap meals. Don’t be afraid to buy used clothes or accept hand-me-downs, especially for your kids! Ask your friends for tips on how they save money.
And remember, this won’t last forever! I have to remind myself of that all of the time when I get frustrated that we STILL don’t have money after all of this hard work!
5. Plan Things to Look Forward To
The long, exhausting days can be draining. So plan some things for you to look forward to, both for yourself and for your family. Plan on getting together with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Look foward your favorite Netflix show while the kids are napping. Plan a trip to go visit family for a week during an especially hard rotation.
And as a family, plan fun things to do together! Plan a camping trip, an outing to the zoo, or just a walk to your local park to play.
And DEFINITELY plan fun things for just your and your husband to do together – aka DATES. I clung to the dates with my husband this past year like a life preserver. They are essential! Even if you can’t do them often due to long work hours or tight finances, try to do them as often as you can. Dates are a fantastic thing to look forward to.
6. Treat His Time Off Like Gold
Your husband’s time off comes few and far between. This last year it was normal for my husband to work 6 days a week with one day off a week – so 4 days off a month. I know that isn’t as bad as some specialties, but it was tough for us! I quickly learned to treat my husband’s time off like gold because we valued it so much.
I tried my hardest to get the housework and my other responsibilities out of the way so I was completely free on his days off. I learned to say “No” to a lot of people so his days off were just ours. I have even come home from visiting family early because I knew he would have a day off and I wanted to be with him.
We have done so many fun things this past year with his days off! Lots of trips to Disneyland, beach days, hiking, and family time at home. We grew to cherish his time off and you will too. Defend it and guard it – it’s so important!
7. Don’t Neglect Your Marriage
It can be easy to let your marriage take a back seat during residency. Your husband is just focusing on keeping his head above water during his crazy long shifts. You are trying to keep things from slipping into utter chaos at home or are busy working your own job. And sometimes your marriage accidentally gets placed on the back burner.
This happened to us this past year and things got really hard for us. One day we realized that our marriage was not what it used to be or what we wanted at all. It was a huge wake up call to us that we needed to put our marriage back in the center of our lives. We worked hard and completely changed our focus back onto each other. It took a lot of time (and we are still working on it!) but things are now night and day difference for us. I am so glad that we are back on track.
Remember that it’s possible to have a strong and healthy marriage, even during residency. Just don’t neglect your marriage. Make consistent, intentional effort – EVERYDAY – to strengthen your marriage and love your spouse.
And like I said above, don’t forget to DATE! Make dating a priority! I know you don’t have a lot of time together, but when you do – DATE!
8. It’s Ok to Ask For Help
Residency is hard. And sometimes you get to the point where you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. Like you are drowning. And guess what? It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to admit that you don’t have your ducks all lined up in a row. Or that you feel like you’re going crazy. That you aren’t perfect. Because all of us doctor’s wives have felt that way at one time or another – whether it be in medical school, residency, or after training is over.
So ask for help! Reach out to your family and friends. Get together with a friend and just cry and vent. Ask someone to take your kids for the morning so you can get a breather.
And if it’s really bad, go for some professional counseling if you have to. It’s ok!! You aren’t broken, you aren’t weak. It is normal. Residency can take it out of even the best of us.
9. Take It One Day At A Time
I am such a strong believer in this one! It is so easy for us to get ahead of ourselves as we stress about moving for residency, surviving training, applying for fellowships, finding that first job, etc etc….. And that’s just the doctor’s wife stuff! In normal life, we are dealing with stresses at home, at work, the changes with our kids as they grow up, what school they will get into, how we are going to make our money stretch until the end of the month …. It is a lot to worry about.
So take it one day at a time. My strategy is I wake up in the morning and say, “I’ve been given the next 24 hours. What am I going to do with it?” Then I do it. I try not to think of tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, or even 5 years from now. I just try to live in and worry about just that one day. This medical journey is too long to think about the entire thing! Just take it in little chunks and you can make it through the first year of residency.
10. It’s Good Now
A common phrase that is said among the doctors’ wives community is, “It’s good now.” Please try to remember this! Your life is still good now, even during these sometimes awful training years. You don’t have to wait until residency is over to live and love your life. You can love it NOW! Your life is a beautiful thing meant to be celebrated. Yes, residency is hard, but I promise – It’s good now.
It is possible to survive residency. How do I know? Not because we’ve successfully finished yet, but because I know a lot of other physician families who have done it. We can do this you guys! Good luck to the incoming group of new residents and their families, you’ve got this!
Do you have any tips for transitioning to residency that I missed? Have any questions about starting residency that you’re worried about? Please comment below!