My parents didn’t have it easy growing up. They immigrated to the United States from India with very little money in the prime of their lives. They had to start from scratch. My father would drive taxis and worked at the local McDonalds until he started his own fabric business in New York. My mother taught English as a Second Language at various elementary schools to survive. When I was born, they knew that they wanted a different life for me. They didn’t want me to worry about putting food on the table. They wanted me to be able to educate my children and own a home in a decent city.
I began a career as a real estate agent and then taught myself how to invest and became a landlord. When I fell in love with a fledgling doctor who was one of my tenants, my parents instantly gave me their seal of approval.
I want everyone looking for their future spouse to know that being married to a doctor—irrespective of his/her character, personality, or traits—is a very special situation. Tying the knot with a physician is definitely not the right choice for everyone. Don’t get me wrong: I cherish my husband and have never regretted the decision I made to marry him. I feel very lucky and extremely grateful that I have a man like him in my life. But I do want to share my story, because I was in for a lot of big surprises. I didn’t know what I was getting into or what to expect.
- The Good: There are so many wonderful things about being married to a doctor. The skills that a doctor has are difficult to substitute and are in very high demand, so there is excellent job security. If working for a hospital or clinic does not work out, a physician can open up his or her own office and there will always be sick patients who need his/her services. A doctor’s income is usually solid enough to provide a comfortable life. Don’t expect to become filthy rich. But you will be comfortable. My husband is well respected wherever we go. He does tremendous good for people. He saves lives. He is compassionate. People love what he does for a living. They need him. They rely on him. They trust him. They listen to him. They book appointments weeks in advance to see him. As a spouse, it is a great feeling to know that your partner is doing something extraordinarily valuable for the world, and that he or she is so well regarded and valued. It is a wonderful feeling to know that when any of our family members are sick, my husband will instantly help coordinate and manage their healthcare needs.
- The Bad: My time with my husband is very limited. He works very long days and has few days off. He is on-call very often. He has to go to the hospital for patient emergencies very frequently. He brings home tremendous stress from work. When patients are dying or die, families are upset, hospital staff is obnoxious, or things don’t go right with procedures, the stress comes home–and sometimes it is intense. He is rarely around for our childrens’ meetings, school events, playdates, and important family occasions. Not once has he driven the kids to school in the morning. When we go out to dinner, he is often preoccupied with his pager. I can’t sleep many nights because his pager wakes us up in the middle of the night. His job is very stressful. He has lives in his hands. People wake him up at odd hours. He gets cranky. It is not unusual for him to work over thirty hours straight without an hour of sleep. He gets so exhausted, that when I am talking to him at night, he falls asleep within 30 seconds and rarely hears what I have to say (not that what I have to say is important—but it would be nice to have some adult conversation with someone I care about). When we go to parties, he often can’t drink, or we will have to leave early because he has to be at the hospital first thing in the morning for a procedure. Our vacation time is very limited every year because he needs to be available for his very sick patients and often cannot find people to cover him. In his precious time off, he has to go to specialty meetings and earn his mandatory CME credits. He has to study for board exams every 10 years just to maintain his board certification. All these painful re-certification exams rob me and my family of even more precious time we could be spending with him.
- The Ugly: The ugliest part of being a doctor’s wife is not when a patient dies, or when my husband has to go to the hospital at ungodly hours. It is peer review and litigation. When patients sue or threaten to sue their doctors for any reason, or when fiercely competitive doctors try to sabotage other doctors’ careers– it gets very ugly. These situations happen to almost every single doctor. They are not just ugly for the doctor. They are equally ugly for the spouse. Hospital and physician group politics are worse than you could ever imagine. Partners are constantly bickering. Partnerships often dissolve when the partners can’t agree—which is most of the time. Hospital Peer Review Boards and regulatory committees often reprimand doctors for stupid, trivial things when they feel threatened by the doctor (i.e. that he/she might be a whistleblower or will monopolize all the patients in that specialty). Some patients who need money file lawsuits against their doctors and fabricate symptoms, emotional distress, and complications. These are the things that sap the life out of your spouse, and are the scariest part about marrying a physician. My husband always does his best, he trained at the very best hospital in the country for his specialty, and his patients adore him. But competitive colleagues have tried to push him out of their territory any way they can. He has won these cases every single time, but going through battles with Peer Review Committees and accusatory boards (sometimes consisting of just one competitive colleague) is absolutely dreadful. When my husband got sued by a patient for the first time, we had to cancel our family trip and our plans for having a third child abruptly ended. He ultimately won the case after he had developed two ulcers, endured 70-plus hours of lawyer meetings, and became depressed for six and a half months. He was mortified that a patient who had been loyal to him for 10 years could sue him for a fictitious complication.
Why am I writing this you ask? I am writing this not to scare you away from marrying a doctor. Being married to a physician brings with it tremendous satisfaction and the joy of knowing that your spouse is doing something absolutely extraordinary with his/her life. It brings your family a steady income and a constant outpouring of gratitude from people whose lives your spouse has touched in a profound way. It brings your family the safety and security that you will always find the right physician or the right hospital to take care of your own family’s healthcare needs. But there are a lot of sacrifices. A lot. You must be willing to stay supportive and strong despite all the late nights, exhaustion, missed parties, missed school events for the kids, ulcers, lawsuits, exams, peer reviews, hospital politics, office politics, complications, hours of phone calls with worried patients, middle of the night emergencies, and the rest of the baggage that comes with the profession. Don’t be naïve. Do your research. Know what you are getting into before you tie the knot. Then you won’t have any regrets. You will also be better equipped to weather the ups and downs of your spouse’s medical career with great confidence and empathy
The Humble Wife
Editorial Contributor on DoctorCPR.com. America’s #1 Website for Medical Jobs and Practice Resources.