Dating, in general, is challenging but dating a resident doctor during their residency years is completely different. The first couple of years of their residency is the hardest. They are at the hospital very early in the morning and not home until late at night, and it can be very frustrating when you want to see your partner but can’t because of their residency.
Tip 1: Be patient. If you just started dating a resident, don’t expect a reply or phone call right away after you message/call them. Depending on what type of resident or rotation/service they are on, they may not have the time to reply/call back. They may read your text, but they don’t text back. It’s so frustrating, and it may feel like you are being ignored. Trust me – you’re not. They have more important priorities than your text/call (unless it’s an emergency (life or death)). So, if you are dating a resident, be patient and wait for a reply. If all of a sudden you are going on week to several without a reply, then I would check in later in the evenings. It’s possible they switched rotations and are on a more stressful and busy rotation. When Jake was on his vascular rotation, I felt like I never saw him or talked with him, while other rotations like GI were a lot less stressful and more balanced.
Tip 2: Be flexible. Understand that the hospital takes priority. They are working and learning while in residency, so if you planned something together in the evening, keep in mind that plans may change abruptly. It’s so frustrating. I get it. I sat at restaurants several times for an hour, waiting for Jake. Sometimes he would respond to my text, leaving in 5 minutes, but then it takes them an hour or longer. I have gotten frustrated to the point I wanted to leave and yell (sometimes I did because my time is also important to me, and it felt like everything was about him)- It sucked. But after a few years, I got used to it. I recognized when we should make dinner plans on weeknights or if we should eat at separate times. We took advantage of when Jake was at the hospital working late hours; I would come and visit him to have dinner together. We either ate at one of the restaurants inside the main campus, or I brought food. Our time together was short, but at least we saw each other and spent dinner together. That’s why being flexible is super crucial during residency. Things don’t happen accordingly, and we would have to change things up on a whim.
Tip 3: Be ready to do everything: This is something not all friends or family will understand, especially if your friends and family are not doctors. When you are dating a resident, they do not have the time to help with this and that, including planning dates and vacations. Be prepared to shop for groceries, make all the dinners, and clean up all the dishes because when they are done with dinner, they have other things they need to do like working on presentations, dictating, and studying. Their work never stops, and asking them to cook and clean for you may not slide. Jake made breakfast once or twice a year… Other days when he was busy, he would make cereal. During these times, be willing to do everything and don’t hold it against them when they can’t. Don’t complain to your family or friends because if they are not in medicine, they will not understand, and they will tell you that it’s not fair to be in such a relationship where you are doing it all. Just know that fairness and equality do not apply to many things when they are in residency, especially time-wise.
Tip 4: Make friends with doctor spouses that are not in medicine. It may be cool and interesting to listen to things that happened at the hospital, but too much is not good. When you are surrounded by it the entire time you hang out with his co-resident friends, you will get bored, and it will be more challenging to participate in the conversations. It won’t be enjoyable. Finding a non-medical spouse/friend will make the hangouts more enjoyable. You can talk about non-medical things when the residents talk about work. It also allows you to talk to someone who is going through what you are going through. I’ve made some really close friends with the wives of co-residents. Some places even have a House Staff Spouse Association where you can meet other partners of residents and fellows.
Tip 5: Talk about non-medical things. Listening to your partner talk about work is great, but it’s important to find other interests together. Find a common hobby like walking/hiking and talking about traveling, or interests in future desires and goals. Find TV shows, movies, audiobooks, or podcasts that interest you both so you have something in common and can do it together. These are the easiest things to do when you are dating a resident. They also will appreciate the time away from work.
Tip 6: Bad days and mood swings are not about you! This one takes a while to recognize and to get used to. If you don’t live together, then you’ll likely experience these days differently. Their tone of voice, or lack of conversation, or snappiness is a sign they had a bad day at work, and they don’t have the energy to deal with anything else. Don’t take their mood as a reflection on how they feel about you. Give them space. They deal with so much stress at work, and they can’t show it at work, so they bring it home. When they are not chatty with you and working, let them work. Don’t force them to do anything or to say anything. This is when finding a hobby or reading a book comes in handy. They will appreciate that you are giving them the space they need. If you don’t live together and don’t hear from them but know they are home, they may even be sleeping rather than texting you back. Sometimes sleep helps with the stress.
Tip 7: Don’t compare your relationship to others. This is so important. If you are dating a doctor or a doctor in residency and you are in the long haul and love them, then you need to accept this is “your normal.” Don’t expect that they are willing to change because you see your friend’s hubby or boyfriend doing this or that when yours doesn’t. Yours has other things going on, and you may come second, but remember it’s never by choice. It’s frustrating when you have to go to the party by yourself, or you made all these plans, and they all were messed up because he never called or texted to say he won’t make it or he’s running late. Don’t complain about his absence when you go to the party by yourself. Rather, apologize for his absence that he’s working hard for both of your future. It will suck being there alone, and it won’t make either of you feel better if you bring up his absence or tardiness. This is when tip number 8 comes in handy too.
Tip 8: Be independent. If you cannot go somewhere by yourself, do things independently, or enjoy evenings by yourself days in a row, you need to find hobbies to keep your mind occupied and not be depressed that your partner is not around to hang out with you. You need to be comfortable with hanging out with yourself. When it comes to night float, you will be alone every night for a month or longer, and if you are not comfortable with being alone in the evenings and not seeing your partner, this stage will be challenging for you. When they graduate from residency, they may still do overnight calls, but not as often. You will need to get through these years when they are on night-float or overnight call, and the best solution is finding a hobby and learning to be independent. — Trust me, when they are home more, you will be wishing they were still at work, so you had your quiet time back..lol
Tip 9: Residency is hard but don’t let it become an excuse every single time. If you really want to go on vacation with your partner, but he can’t take the full week off, see if he can take the weekend off for a weekend getaway nearby. Or see if he can spend at least 1 day doing something with you. We barely went on vacations when Jake was in residency because he didn’t have the time, and we didn’t have much money sitting around, but we still tried to make plans for when he had the day off. Understand that he might want to catch up on sleep on the days he has off, so don’t plan anything super early in the morning. Let him get his rest, then plan something for late morning. If he says no to doing anything on his days off, be honest with him that you need this and see if he is willing to compromise. Tell him you both need a day to spend together because it’s been several weeks since it was just you and him for an entire day.
Tip 10: Understand that you will never “understand.” As a doctor’s spouse/partner, we will never understand what they go through during residency. We only experience our side and the struggles they go through, but we don’t truly understand their emotional and physical stress. They are learning skills to treat patients with limited sleep. They go hours without eating and have to deal with life and death situations. That’s why it’s important to understand this is the life you chose because you chose him. If you cannot find happiness with the above tips, their residency will be really tough on you and your relationship. You have to learn to accept residency is tough, but true love is stronger. If you can stick it out and make it through residency, things will work out and get better.
— I would love to hear from you about your experience. Or, if you have any questions or need someone to talk to – I am here for you! Feel free to send me a DM or leave a comment – Tracey
Jake and I were together throughout his entire general surgery residency, which was 5-years long. He did not do a research rotation. During these 5-years, we both grew independently and as a couple. Not every day was sunshine and rainbows. Some days to even weeks were very stressful and irritating, which could have resulted in a break-up.
Together, Jake and I both described each of the following topics through our eyes, shared our personal stories, and provided tips on how we made it work during his residency. We wanted to share our experiences with you because we know residency is not easy, and it can be very hard on relationships, but we know there is light at the end of the tunnel and happiness.
Depending on the doctor your partner wants to be or is pursuing, you might not experience all of the same situations as discussed in the topics above. Jake completed his residency in general surgery; therefore, the length of his training was longer and more intense than most programs.
I am in tears reading this. Only in 4th year pre residency and it’s been a really rough adjustment. we’ve lived together for over 6 years and had a lot of time together during the pandemic when we were both home 24/7. It’s especially difficult because all of my friends are in serious relationships with significant others with much less demanding careers. This post really made me feel not alone. I look forward to when he matches & getting to know people in the same boat.
My partner started his Residency this summer- to say intern year is a struggle would be a serious understatement! Reading this helped give a little perspective on the other side of things, while also validating my experience and feelings of being in a unique situation like this.
Nothing in this world could prepare you for the trials and tribulations you face during this chaotic time. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we’re both navigating this new life together and have to be there for each other no matter what.
Thank you so much for writing this!
Love the format and thank you for putting all of this together. Just began dating a prelim resident surgeon and it’s be tough to say the least. My biggest takeaway from these posts is that their career, and the hospital really come first and to be happy with what I have. Definitely not a traditional relationship lol
Thanks!! Yes, definitely not a traditional relationship and not many people understand.
This gave me so much peace. I just started dating a resident. We actually started talking when he started residency so I was used to his busy schedule, but occasionally it is difficult.
Hi Brennan – so happy to help! The beginning of residency is def. the hardest, but it gets better! xTracey
Hi, just wanted to say thanks for the thoughts & tips, so helpful. I started seeing a resident in his first year. Now in the 3rd year, I am learning to accept & understand that he cares about me but must stay absolutely focused. For us this means distance at times and loneliness for me. I’m definitely learning to be happy on my own which is an invaluable skill. Anyway, I really appreciate what you wrote, it is a great comfort :). Namaste 🙏
Hi Guinevere – glad to help! xTracey