Congratulations! You and your husband got accepted to medical school! Seriously, that is a huge deal. There are thousands of people who apply to medical school every year and only a handful get accepted at each school. The fact that you are attending medical school is a huge accomplishment.
I remember when we were applying to medical school. It was a time of nervousness, hope, lots of prayers, a lot of rejections, and a lot of waiting for that one magical, fat acceptance envelope to arrive. We got accepted to our #1 choice and were beyond thrilled. We celebrated with happy screaming, jumping on the bed, and ditching classes to eat a nice, celebratory breakfast. My husband was going to be a doctor!!
Five years ago we were off to medical school. We moved to a new city, completely away from any friends or family. I started a new job as a nurse. And my husband started his very first year of medical school. It was the very beginning of our medical journey.
That first year of medical school was a hard, hard adjustment but it was also a fantastic year for us. We learned so much about each other and also learned some great habits and priorities that served us well throughout the four years of medical school and on into residency.
And you and your husband are about to start medical school! Here are some tips for you as a wife of a first year medical student. I am glad you are on this medical journey with us, welcome to the doctor’s wives club!
1. Your Husband Will Feel Overwhelmed – And That’s Normal
The amount of information your husband will need to learn is insane. My husband compared learning in medical school like drinking from a fire hydrant. There will be so much stuff being thrown at him at once that he will feel like he is drowning in information.
In addition to all of lectures and labs he will attend and the reading he is expected to do, there are the tests. Tests tests tests. They feel like they never end! Your husband will survive one test only to immediately start studying for the next one. And sometimes he will bomb a test and just feel awful about it.
And so, naturally, your husband will feel overwhelmed at times. He will have moments where he feels like a failure. Where he thinks, “I can’t do this. I’m just not cut out to be a doctor.” He will be tempted to give up, throw in the towel, and do something else.
And you know what? That is TOTALLY NORMAL. Almost every single one of our friends and family members who have been through medical school felt like this at one time or another, especially during their first year. My husband had moments like this, especially during his first year. It is normal! It stinks but it’s totally expected.
The best way to deal with this as a medical school wife is to remember that it’s normal for him to feel this way. He is working harder than he ever has in his life and is still struggling to stay on top of it all.
So when he is doubting himself, don’t freak out. Don’t think, “Maybe he’s right. Maybe this ISN’T the right choice for him.” Instead encourage him. Give him the encouragement and confidence that he doesn’t have for himself right now. He will gain it back, don’t worry – he is just going through a rough patch. He is adjusting to medical school and it’s HARD. He will come back again and be himself, but until then – be strong for him.
Remind him how smart and capable he is. Just build him up. Tell him he is having a hard time because he has never done this before, but that he will get the hang of it and get better at it as time goes on.
2. He Will Be Studying – A Lot
This one seems like a given, but I was even shocked at how much my husband had to study when we started medical school. Like I said above, he has a lot of information to get through and a lot of tests he will be taking. So of course – he needs to study.
You can support him in a few ways with this. If he wants to study at home, try to create a space where he can do that. We had a second bedroom that we made into his office. It was a perfect study space because he could close the door and not be distracted by whatever else was going on in our apartment. After we had our son he had to share the office with our son’s crib, but he would just study somewhere else while our son took naps.
If you husband is the kind of person that can’t focus at home, then support him when he chooses to study at school. Yes it is hard to have him gone and of course you would rather have him home. But it won’t always be like this! The classroom years will eventually end and he will have to study less and less.
You can bring dinner to the school if he is in his crazy study mode right before a test. And if he happens to be in a study group, send treats or bring extra when you bring dinner or lunch to the school. It’s a way you can say thank you to his classmates for helping your husband.
Another way to support all of the studying he is doing is to listen and ask questions when he wants to talk about it. Even if you don’t understand what your spouse is learning, it will help him process the information. My sister does this and I think it’s a fantastic idea. She says it’s a way you can help him study without you actually knowing the material as well.
3. Remember to Establish Your Priorities
Since your husband will be very busy with medical school, it’s important to set some priorities. If you don’t set priorities it can be easy for medical school to take over every single thing in your life. Yes, of course, medical school is up there in your priorities. It is important. But don’t make it more important than your marriage or your family.
When we first started medical school, I knew it would be busy because people who had done it before had told me. So I told him I don’t need much, but it would mean a lot to me if we could have dinner together most days and if he could give me at least an hour everyday. That INCLUDED dinner time for me. So about 30 minutes or so of eating dinner and talking, and 30 minutes afterward of us time. And then I was totally fine if he hit the books again because we at least had that time together. Our time together was a big priority for me.
Now this didn’t happen everyday. My husband studied a lot. But most days he made this a priority and we were able to spend a little bit of time together everyday. He still made sure he spent time with his family when he could.
So I suggest sitting down with your spouse and discussing priorities together. Talk about what is most important to you and your spouse. Then discuss how you can try to manage those priorities and make sure they don’t get left behind. This is a very important conversation to have. In our situation, it kind of set up a map we could follow throughout our medical school experience.
4. You Can Still Have a Life in Medical School
As you can see already, your husband will be busy. Medical school is not easy. Sometimes it can seem all-consuming. But it is still possible for you two to have a life. And not just little pieces of one, but a beautiful, fulfilling life during medical school.
It’s all about time management and priorities. If you and your husband do your best to manage your time well, you will still be able to do the things you love.
You will be able to make new friends. You will be able to do things you love to do. My husband and I loved our medical school years. We made some incredible, life-long friends that we are still close to. We were able to visit the lake, go snowboarding, go river-rafting, hiking, camping, and a bunch of other activities we love to do. My husband played on a volleyball intramural team, went golfing, and went shooting with friends.
He was able to still do activities he loved. He just decided what was important to him and made time for them. And you know what? Those activities, those hobbies, and that time spent away from the books actually helped him in the long run.
It was like a reset button for him. He didn’t get burned out as easily. He was able to take a break, do something he loved, then get back to the books with more energy and more commitment because he was more of a whole person. He wasn’t just a study robot. He had a life outside of medical school that included his family, his beliefs, and the activities he loved.
So sometimes it is a good idea to encourage your husband to take a break. Remind him that he needs to take a break, unwind, then get back to studying. Try to provide fun activities that the two of you can do together. Dispel the common myth that there is no life during medical school. There is and it can be amazing.
5. He Will Probably Bomb His First Test
Just between you and me….his first test probably won’t go so well. Obviously don’t tell him this before! Just a heads up for you so you know what to expect.
I know this from personal experience and from the experiences of almost all of my medical school friends. My husband almost failed his first medical school test and it really shook him. He studied harder than he ever had for something in his entire life and he thought he was prepared. He was a fantastic student in college (you have to be to go to medical school, right?) but he still did really poorly on that first test.
He called to tell me the news. I was living in a different state his whole first semester because I was finishing up my last semester of nursing school. He was so discouraged and overwhelmed and he didn’t think he was cut out for medical school.
And quite honestly, the fact that he failed his first test surprised me too! It made me nervous. I knew he was a smart and fantastic student – we dated and got married in college. I saw firsthand how good he was at school. So I was shocked that he had done so poorly on his test.
Thank goodness I didn’t let him hear my surprise over the phone. And thank goodness an idea popped into my head of what to say.
I just reminded him that he was new at this. That he has never been a medical student before and he is going to have to learn how to be one. And that honestly, he has probably never learned how to REALLY study before in his life.
During college my husband was the cream of the crop and the top of his group. He was able to rely on his smarts and not as much on studying. Yes he studied a lot in college, but he didn’t really have to learn how to study like crazy in college.
But in medical school, every single person there is smart, intelligent, and driven. Your husband’s academic performance will not stand out any longer. Instead, he will be about average because he is in a class with similar minded, intelligent, driven people.
Remind your husband of this when that first test doesn’t go as expected. Remind him that medical school is different and he will have to learn the best way to study for him. And that as he learns and develops his own personal study habits and techniques, the test scores will improve.
That is exactly what happened with us. My husband decided to dedicate a lot of time to figuring out which study method worked best for him. He tried a lot of different ideas and finally found a system that worked for him. And, once he did, his test scores dramatically improved and he did completely fine in medical school. He realized he just didn’t know how to study before and he had to learn how to do it.
So don’t be shocked when that first test doesn’t go well. It doesn’t go well for most people. Just be there for him and remind him that it will get better as he learns how to really study.
6. Make a Life For Yourself Too
So while your husband is busy doing medical school, what are you going to do? You’re going to have your own life, that’s what. Don’t let medical school be your whole life! You will go crazy if you are waiting around for him all of the time.
Make friends. Make it a priority to establish a stellar support system that you can rely on. Go out of your way to connect with others, and try to make friends with fellow medical student wives! They will understand exactly what you are going through. Like I said, I have friends I made in medical school that are some of my closest friends.
Have your own schedule and do your own hobbies during your free time. One friend taught English classes at the local library once a week. Another friend did substitute teaching. One did a lot of sewing in medical school and actually started an Etsy shop. Another friend and I exercised together in the mornings. I also wrote in my journal and did a lot of running and hiking during my days off as a nurse.
Be independent, make friends, and do what you love.
7. Ignore The Comments
This is a big one. I’m sure you’ve heard it all by now. “Oh, your husband will be a doctor? I heard 50% of doctors get a divorce.” Or that you will never see him in medical school or when he starts his career as a doctor. Or “You better hold onto him and make sure he doesn’t run off with a cute nurse!”
Yup, I heard all of the above. People will hear that your husband is starting medical school and some will say, “Congratulations, that is fantastic for you two.” But a lot of people will instead say what they’ve heard about medical school and becoming a doctor, and it isn’t usually positive.
These comments used to drive me crazy when we were just starting out. And they honestly made me nervous. But I quickly learned to ignore them. Want to know why?
Because most of the people who said these things to me had never BEEN to medical school. They had never done it and were just spouting off some stereotypes they have heard. They had no idea what they were talking about.
Every once in a while I would hear a comment from a doctor that wasn’t positive, and I learned to take it with a grain of salt. Yes, what they said probably had some truth to it since they went to medical school and they’ve lived it. But I also learned that their experience doesn’t have to be our experience. My husband and I can make medical school and this entire medical journey whatever we want it to be. We can make it a positive experience. We can decide what is important to us and not let those things slide.
Just remember – ignore the comments. Just smile and ignore it. You and your husband can make medical school the kind of experience you want it to be.