Medical school is hard. But so is maintaining a relationship. Combine the two and you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands. But some medical students are balancing the demands of both—navigating their way through lessons, exams, clinicals and romance.
Below, they share their stories, along with tips for being in a relationship when you’re in med school.
Adjust your expectations
“Just like with your studies, you have to make time for your relationship. You have to prioritize, otherwise it’s not going to work,” says Alyka Glor Fernandez, OMS I, of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCU-COM). She and her boyfriend have been together for over three years. They’ve been able to thrive, she says, because they received sound advice about relationship survival from current residents and medical students.
“They told us that medical school would create a different relationship than what we’d been accustomed to before,” she says. Those residents also told her boyfriend, who is not in medical school, that school would now be Alyka’s No. 1 priority. The couple, she says, remains mindful of that truth, but prioritizes making the most of their limited time together.
“We turn off our notifications, put our phones away,” she says. “Even if it’s just 30 minutes of him bringing me dinner in the library, it can be the most amazing 30 minutes of the day.”
Think outside the box of campus
Although medical school forges a bond of commonality where relationships are often a natural outgrowth, some medical students prefer not to date within their class. Joshua Perlman, OMS I, of KCU-COM, decided not to date within his medical class following a breakup with a fellow classmate when he was an undergrad.
“Unlike undergrad, medical school is so small. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for error if things don’t work out,” he says. “If it doesn’t, it changes the friend dynamic and it makes everyone else awkward. It’s just a headache.”
Perlman is now seeing someone he met on an online dating site just a few months ago. His love interest shares his passion for power lifting and also has a demanding career and schedule as an accountant.
“She understands how busy I am and she respects the time that I do have,” Perlman says. “And vice-versa. A relationship gives you something to look forward to when you actually do have free time.”
Fernandez also feels that dating someone outside of medical school is a plus.
“My boyfriend helps me study,” she says. “He’ll quiz me. Or do flash cards. He’s there to support me, but also to balance me out, and to remind me that there is more to life than just studying.”
Schedule time for your partner, just like you do for studying and exams
Sure, there are plenty of single medical students looking for love, and couples who are dating in medical school. And then there are those who’ve ascended to the next level, adding marriage into the mix and in some cases, a baby too.
Time management, support and compromise are the keys to making a marriage work in medical school, says Jacqueline Segelnick-Polaniecki, OMS III, of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM). Segelnick-Polaniecki has been married for three years, and she and her husband are expecting their first child at the end of May.
Medical school, a baby and maintaining a marriage can each be full-time endeavors. NYITCOM, Segelnick-Polaniecki says, has been extremely supportive of her and her growing family. And she and her husband found a plan that works for them.
“We schedule ourselves into our schedule. No matter how many exams you have or how much studying you have to do, everyone needs a break. You cannot physically study 24/7,” Segelnick-Polaniecki says. She and her spouse look to Saturdays as a time to connect. “I’m always on a schedule. I’m a to-do list sort of person, but we remain flexible to fit in time where we can, even if it’s something simple like going to the grocery store or the car wash together.”
Think of your relationship as a break from medical school
Sierra Miller, OMS I, at KCU-COM, is married with two children and one on the way. She points out the benefits of having a family in medical school. “While a family does create additional responsibilities, it also provides some normalcy in what can be an all-consuming experience,” she says. “You can’t simply put life on hold while you’re in medical school. You have to invest in your personal life as well as your academic life.”