Dan Thomas, DO, and his wife, Jennifer Kendall, DO, met while they were medical students at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
love and medicine

How to plan a wedding during med school or residency

Two DOs share tips they learned along the way for balancing the pressures of training and wedding planning.

Planning a wedding is often an extremely demanding prospect. From venues to flowers to the guest list, there are endless decisions to make, many of which require research. No matter the scale of the event, coordinating family and making all of the necessary arrangements are significant undertakings. And when you’re training to become a physician, you really don’t have time for many significant undertakings.

Nonetheless, many couples take on this challenge during their training. Below, two DOs who married their spouses in the pressure cooker that is medical training share their advice.

Enlist your family’s help

Jennifer Kendall, DO, describes the story of how she met her husband of 15 years, Dan Thomas, DO, as “your classic nerdy med school romance.” Early on in Dr. Thomas’ first year as a medical student, he inadvertently sat in a library chair that had been unofficially claimed by Dr. Kendall, then an OMS II, during the previous school year.

They had their first date the following February and were engaged just a few months later. They planned their wedding throughout Dr. Thomas’ second year and Dr. Kendall’s third year of medical school, and got married in the break before their third and fourth years, respectively.

Dr. Kendall says the travel and stress of her clinical rotations made this challenging, but the couple’s shared desire to keep things simple made the process easier. Still, planning was necessarily expedited. She used the small gap between her second and third years to nail down the big things, like the venues for the ceremony and the reception. After that, it was all done from afar, meaning she had to rely on her mom.

‘Try to enjoy the day’

“It required a lot of trust on my part,” she says. “My mom helped and made a lot of decisions. It may be easier now with all the reviews out there online. We didn’t have as many of those, we went by word of mouth and a prayer. I could count on my mom to be super supportive and help plan, and I could trust that if I told her I wanted something, that was actually going to happen.”

Dan Thomas, DO, and Jennifer Kendall, DO, on their wedding day.

Dr. Kendall says trusting your family and not being shy about enlisting them to help is the biggest piece of advice she’d share with a couple planning a wedding during medical training.

“Remember that the day is going to be special no matter what, and nobody’s going to notice if things don’t go according to your perfect plan,” she says. “Try to enjoy the day and enjoy that time, because it’s a really special time in your life.”

As a procedural note for women physicians who want to practice using their maiden name, Dr. Kendall recommends hyphenating or just not taking your husband’s name. She was mistakenly told she could add Kendall, her maiden name, to her middle name and still use it legally as a last name, which turned out not to be the case. Hyphenating, however, allows you to choose one of your two last names.

The Kendall-Thomas wedding, held in August 2005, featured prescription pads on every table (for guests to write their prescriptions for a happy marriage) and pens shaped like hypodermic needles.

Long-distance romance

The story of how Brian Fishman, DO, met his future wife, Emily Fishman, MD, is short and sweet. Their families, both from Cleveland, went on the same cruise while the two were in high school. Brian was a year ahead of Emily. Their first date was Brian’s senior prom.

They had to wait over a decade before they lived in the same city again, which is a much longer story. Brian did undergrad in Baltimore while Emily started a combined bachelor-MD program in Youngstown, Ohio. Brian then went to the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, Pennsylvania, because Emily intended to do her residency in Pittsburgh, but the Match placed her in Columbus, Ohio.

Brian Fishman, DO, and Emily Fishman, MD, on their wedding day.

Before applying for his own residency, Brian did an intern year in Cleveland to see where Emily would end up for her post-residency neonatology fellowship, which turned out to be St. Louis.

“I, very late in the game, emailed all the program directors in St. Louis, asking for auditions,” he said. “I told them, ‘my wife and I have been together since the end of high school and never lived in the same city, please give me an interview.'”

Fortunately, that worked, and the two have been in St. Louis ever since.

Long-distance planning

Several years before they were able to live in the same city, the Fishmans married in Cleveland during the short break between Brian’s second and third years of medical school.

Since they were planning their wedding long-distance—and the wedding itself would be in a third location where neither of them lived—they made a point of getting through as much wedding planning as possible whenever they were in the same physical place.

But since those occurrences were so few and far between, similarly to Drs. Kendall and Thomas, they relied on their parents and bridal party to help make plans.

This also meant they had to start their meetings with the rabbi who performed their ceremony far in advance, since they knew they’d never be in the same place long enough to get all of them done at once.

Keep it simple

After their wedding, the Fishmans went directly to their honeymoon (the same cruise on which they met) and got back the day before Brian started his third-year clinical rotations. It was a whirlwind, as medical marriages so often are. In that case, like Dr. Kendall, Dr. Fishman suggests keeping things simple.

“In medicine, long distance is so difficult because you’re just constantly studying or working,” he said. “The simpler the better. The more you can offload onto parents or people who are responsible for things, the better, especially if you’re planning a wedding in a city where neither of you are currently living.”

Related reading:

Marriage and relationship advice for DOs

Romance in medical school? These students say yes

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