Kyle D. Homertgen, DO, tried online dating after he realized long workdays and small-town living were not conducive to everyday run-ins with other professional singles. He was intrigued by one of the first women he corresponded with on Match.com, a botanist who shared his love for animals. When he learned that she had never been to the Oregon coast, Dr. Homertgen suggested a day trip to the beach.
“Everyone knows that on a first date, you meet for coffee or something, so if you’re not into it, you can get out of there in 20 minutes,” says Dr. Homertgen, who specializes in family medicine and osteopathic manipulative treatment in Albany, Ore. “But I was a romantic at heart.”
Dr. Homertgen’s date met him at his house, but he didn’t recognize her from her pictures—the first bad sign. The pair then drove an hour to the coast, where they made stilted conversation among the sand, rocks and waves for several hours before traveling back together.
“It was about six hours of awkwardness,” he says. “My whole Saturday. And I was thinking, ‘Now I’m back to square one in terms of dating.’ “
Dr. Homertgen learned from that experience—his subsequent dates were shorter and more casual. A year ago, he made an exception to this rule and agreed to meet a woman for dinner. She was a nurse, a fellow vegan and a yoga enthusiast. They hit it off. A year later, they’re still together.
Other single physicians will likely relate to Dr. Homertgen’s dating adventures. A 2012 Medscape survey found that more than 85% of male physicians and 71% of female physicians are married, which means about 14% and 28% of male and female physicians, respectively, are unmarried or separated.
Physicians are known as a sought-after group in the dating world, and why wouldn’t they be? They have strong earning potential, intellect and a noble profession. They’re trusted. In fact, physician, nurse or other health professional was ranked the No. 1 most desired occupation for a potential mate to have in a 2008 survey, Reuters reported. The general population also finds physicians to be exceptionally trustworthy, the survey found.
“I probably experienced a lot more interest on Match.com because I was a physician,” Dr. Homertgen says. “It was obviously in my favor.”
However, he quickly adds that more people may be interested in the idea of dating a physician than the reality.
“I’m gone for 60 hours of the week,” he says. “It’s not a typical 9-to-5 job, which can be frustrating for some. People are initially interested, but when they see how busy their partner is, it might get kind of old.”
Jonathan J. Vitale, DO, a family medicine resident in Chicago, says that he’s had potential dates pre-emptively label him a workaholic.
“There are people who assume that because you are a doctor, you are not going to have any time, you are not going to be able to put your partner first, and that you are an academic type who cannot also have fun,” he says.
Dr. Vitale says his frenzied resident’s schedule has cut into his dating at times—for instance, he recently went on a date while he was on home call.
“I had to stereotypically wear a pager and excuse myself a few times during the date to answer calls,” he says. “Although my date certainly understood, I still felt bad that I could not devote all my attention to her.”
This falls in line, to a degree, with what Christie Nightingale, the principal of Premier Match, a high-end matchmaking firm, has seen in her work.
“More established physicians have a more regulated schedule than those who are still in residency,” she says. “So older physicians are a very sought-after group. The ones who are in residency, of course, have a chaotic schedule, and it can be pretty tough to pin them down in order to schedule dates, especially if they’re working weekends on call.”
However, Dr. Vitale notes that it’s vital for residents to carve out time for dating.
“Despite the incredibly hectic schedules residents have, they still need to maintain some degree of normalcy in their lives,” he says. “They need to exercise, they need to eat right, they need to socialize, and they need to have companionship or dating in their lives.”
Dr. Vitale says advance planning and prioritizing help him make time for dating.
“If I’m in the middle of a very busy day at the hospital and I have a few minutes of down time, I will often use that time to look for a great show coming up or a new restaurant opening as ideas for dates,” he says. “This really helps me get through the week. Dating is even more important when you are busy. You need to give yourself a way to relax and have fun in a nonmedical atmosphere.”
Que Huong Thi Nguyen, DO, also says time is one of the major difficulties of dating as a physician.
“Whenever I tell the person I’m dating, ‘Oh, I’m going to get out at a certain time,’ inevitably, that’s never the case,” says Dr. Nguyen, who is a neuromuscular medicine fellow in Sacramento, Calif. “It’s usually several hours later because of last-minute emergencies or just work in general. Sometimes that’s a little hard on a relationship. It’s difficult to juggle the two, patient care versus the relationship. It’s a constant battle.”
But the positive attributes physicians usually bring to dating, such as confidence and independence, can outweigh the drawbacks.
“As you go through medical school and internship and residency, you learn to be more independent and decisive,” Dr. Nguyen says. “And you discover on your own what you’re capable of doing and how strong you are as a woman. Self-knowledge is a positive attribute that you can bring to any relationship.”
Compared with male DOs, a higher percentage of female DOs are single. But Dr. Nguyen says she’s never felt that female physicians had it harder in the dating world.
“Individuals are different in terms of dating style and dating life and what they would like out of a relationship,” she says. “I’ve always thought that dating is personality-dependent rather than career- or sex-dependent.”
And DOs of both genders enjoy the added benefit of job security, particularly in primary care, which makes them more appealing to potential dates.
“We’re in a very needed profession,” Dr. Vitale says. “I think that stability makes you more attractive to people. You’re going to have a respected career that you really enjoy. And family physicians are known for their compassion and devotion, which are also fantastic qualities to have in a partner.”
Having a fulfilling career is a plus for DOs. Those who are satisfied professionally often don’t feel the need to micromanage their personal lives, says Charles J. Sophy, DO, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, along the lines of what Dr. Nguyen says, physicians’ rigorous education can help them develop strength and resiliency.
“Residency and the other experiences we have as physicians add layers to our understanding and our ability to really cope and change our expectations,” Dr. Sophy says.
Can’t buy me love
Education may make physicians stronger, but it doesn’t necessarily make them more financially savvy. And money is a potential minefield in any relationship. For physicians, there are two primary concerns. First, they may worry that potential dates are only interested in their title or their paycheck. On the flipside, many physicians bear sizable education debt, which can be a turn-off.
Dr. Sophy says many physicians may be too busy to spot the signs of a “gold digger” on the first few dates.
“If you see red flags, don’t ignore them,” he says. “Look at the person you’re dating. Remember that behavior speaks, words don’t. However he or she handles you, treats you and respects you is so telling of how things will play out.”
Nightingale, the matchmaker, says that some of her physician clients have unrealistic criteria for a potential partner. For instance, clients have requested a partner who is 20 years younger and very attractive.
“If there’s a man that is looking for that type, we usually have a conversation,” she says. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you understand that this could be dangerous because you could fall for somebody who is not in it for the right intentions?’ They’re wise enough to understand what the warning signals are. It’s up to them to listen or pay attention to them.”
Ivan Rusilko, DO, who co-wrote a series of erotic novels based on his own dating life, wrote in an email that he exercises caution when entering relationships.
“One always has to consider the ‘What’s the catch?’ in any form of a relationship—especially in an environment like Miami Beach, where relationships tend to be more like business transactions,” he wrote. “I think my humble upbringing and solid roots make spotting these climbers or love-predators easier.”
Dr. Vitale, Dr. Homertgen and Dr. Nguyen say they haven’t encountered dates who seemed to be after their money. But Dr. Vitale says he heavily screens potential dates, and Dr. Homertgen says gold diggers would probably be less interested in family physicians anyway.
“If there were any gold diggers out there they would probably ditch me for a surgeon or an engineer or something,” he says.
Love and debt
Following the economic collapse, the nation’s awareness of the dangers of debt has increased. In fact, U.S. household debt reached a 29-year low in 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. Last year, osteopathic medical students who graduated with debt owed just over $200,000 on average, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Experts have mixed opinions on when debt should be disclosed in a relationship, but all agree that debt talk can stay shelved for the first several dates.
“It really depends on where the relationship is heading,” Nightingale says. “If it looks like it is getting serious after a month or two, then it might be appropriate for a couple to disclose where they are as far as their financial situation.”
Dr. Sophy says couples don’t need to discuss debt unless they’re merging finances or moving in together. Having this discussion can be scary and overwhelming, especially for a nonphysician who may not be accustomed to this much debt, he says.
Dr. Vitale and Dr. Rusilko both believe that debt shouldn’t get in the way of love.
“Debt will never come between two people who are truly into each other,” Dr. Rusilko wrote. “Debt is only an issue for someone who is in the shallow end of a relationship rather than being head over heels in the deep end.”
Dr. Homertgen says that his girlfriend doesn’t have a problem with his debt, but it nonetheless has implications. The couple has less money for traveling and having fun in part because of his loan payments.
“Probably the biggest stressor in the relationship for me is money,” he says. “By the time both of our student loan payments and our car payment are paid, we’re basically living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s frustrating.”
Dating as a DO
Dr. Homertgen and his partner relieve their stress together by doing yoga and cooking vegan food. He advises other physicians looking for love to first make sure they are taking care of themselves.
“If you’re coming from a position of being overworked and tired and stressed out of your mind, you’re going to attract someone who’s probably not the best for you,” he says. “Stay the course and pursue what you love, and stay true to yourself and support yourself.”
And when DOs are on dates, Dr. Sophy has a tip: Listen.
“Make it a point to not talk about yourself only,” he says. “If they’re asking you questions about you, that’s great. But at a certain point, shut it down and start asking your date questions. You have to leave knowing more about this person than you’ve talked about yourself. See how you think and feel after these dates each time, and don’t settle.”
In addition to listening, physicians should be mindful of when they schedule dates, Nightingale says.
“Physicians should try not to arrange a date when they are coming off of a very long shift,” she says. “Going out on dates—first dates especially—involve putting your best foot forward. You definitely want to be showing yourself in your true light, not an exhausted version of yourself.”
Nightingale also advises her clients to consider alternatives to the standard “dinner and drinks” date, such as outdoor activities, live music and readings.
“A lot of people never tap into these different options,” she says.
Dr. Vitale is a fan of unconventional dates. He likes to plan after-dinner activities such as theater trips and live music. He’s also a musician and sometimes will play piano and sing for his date. His advises other DOs to take risks and embrace rejection when dating.
“The more you get rejected and the more you keep dating, you’re going to gain confidence,” he says. “I encourage men to get out there and challenge themselves because if they do, they will find love. And so will women, if they take the risk to either ask out the guy or to go out with a guy whom they don’t really see themselves with. It’s very important to take risks when you’re dating.”