Dating, in general, is challenging but dating a surgeon is entirely different than dating most doctors. Their schedules are way more unpredictable, their call schedule is long and extensive, and their work never stops because patient emergencies happen. For example, suppose your significant other is specialized, like in orthopedics or a type of surgery. In that case, they may need to stop what they are doing to help assist the surgeon on-call, or sometimes, go into the hospital to see the patient and potentially do an emergent surgery.
Before I dive into what to expect when dating a doctor, if you are new here or new to dating a doctor in general, I recommend checking out my post about what it’s like dating a resident doctor. They are very good tips; some will carry over to when you’re dating a surgeon.
Tips for dating a surgeon and what to expect
Welcome More Time Together. If you started dating your partner when they were in Residency or Fellowship, then this will be the most significant change you will see first. They will be home more than before because they are now the “attending” for their service. Depending on the type of practice or hospital they work for, they may have multiple surgeons to rotate calls with, they might have residents or assistants who help them with duties, and they may have an admin day. Also, it’s expected that when they start at a new hospital or practice, they have to build their practice, and it takes time to find patients, mainly when they are specialized in a particular type of surgery. Jake is a bariatric surgeon, and it took about 1-2 months to establish a practice for patients that needed that type of surgery, so during these times, he was home a lot more than I was excepting. This does change when they establish their practice and their clinic starts to get busy, but they do have more flexibility than before. Just remember that the days they are home earlier will balance out the days they are at the hospital longer. There will be good days and bad days.
Long OR Days. Depending on where your partner practices, the surgeons usually have a designated “surgery day” during the week. This does not necessarily mean that surgeries can happen on non-surgery days. When on-call, they may need to schedule the surgery the same day or the next day, depending on OR availability or urgency. One thing I learned is that in some places, the turnover for surgeries can range from quick to dreadfully slow, and the slow OR changes cause issues with being done with work early and home in time for dinner or scheduled plans. There were numerous days when Jake waited hours for a turnover (cleaning the room before a new patient could arrive), and he got home very late at night. These days irritate Jake more than anything, and the only advice I can give you as the partner waiting at home is, don’t continuously ask, “when are you going to be home” or “how’s work going.” They come home frustrated because they sit at the hospital waiting hours to finish their day and want to leave.
The Unexpected Pages and Phone Calls. If your significant other is the only specialized surgeon at a hospital, and there is an emergency with one of their patients, and you both are still in town, then be prepared for the unpredictability. Because Jake is the only bariatric surgeon, he still takes calls and pages for his patients when he is not on call. If he is in town and their patient ends up in the ER, and it’s significant, he might stop what he is doing to go in and see the patient or get on his computer to order labs. Other times when we are out of town, the surgeon on call may call for advice or consulting. One time, Jake got called for his patient on whom he had performed surgery earlier in the week, and they were still in the hospital. He wasn’t on call that weekend, but he felt responsible for taking care of the patient because he was still in the area. The only advice I recommend when this happens is to be understanding. While this does not happen often, it does sometimes, so again, there will be good days and bad days, but there is more good. 😉
More Money. While, yes, they will be making more money as a doctor now that they aren’t in Residency or Fellowship, their salary will be significantly taxed (hello, higher tax brackets). One thing I wanted to share about this is that depending on the type of hospital or practice your partner joins; the salary will vary by so much. We have noticed that academic hospitals offer lower competitive salaries than non-academic hospitals. Private practices differ depending on whether they join a practice as a partner or as staff. We learned quickly that we shouldn’t get over-excited about the money. While your partner makes more money than ever, it takes time to build wealth.
The Unpredictability of Satisfaction. This is a hard one. Your partner accepted a position at a new hospital for a specialized surgery position, and they do not have the quota of patients they claimed they had when they interviewed. Or, there is a lot wrong with the program, and other doctors and staff continue to quit. Right now, there is a record high of people who are unhappy working in the medical field. More doctors are seeking private practice or pursuing locums positions. Don’t get too settled into your new home and the city you moved to with your partner until at least 6 months in. Once they have been there for 6 months, maybe even sooner, they will see if it’s the place for them. One thing to keep in mind, mainly if your partner is specialized in a type of surgery that they went to Fellowship for, is if they aren’t doing the cases, their credibility and skillset could be jeopardized. This means they must leave as quickly as possible, which might be in a different state. When your partner is unhappy with their current job, being supportive and understanding is the best thing you can do. You both are in it together.
While not everyone experiences the same things, I have found that these are the top ones most significant others face who is with a surgeon. But, again, every specialty is different, and every place of employment is different, so you might expect only some of these or may even experience other things. Feel free to DM or leave a comment below if you have gone through something else not shared here with being with a surgeon.
Hi! I liked this a lot; it did cover majority of the issues. However, I wonder about the emotional side. I have been dating my surgeon gf for a few months now. I knew her in residency but we were just friends and she was dating someone else at the time. She moved on from that person and dated someone else during her fellowship and first years post residency and married them. They divorced early last year, and we grew closer as friends. Late fall, we started developing feelings beyond friendship and decided to start dating. It was fun, but it also let us skip over the typical honeymoon and getting to know each other phase because we’d already been friends for so long. However, I’m seeing emotional differences between her as a friend and now as a partner… do you ever struggle with surgeon brain/thinking at home? I know they have to turn their emotional switch off at work, but sometimes at home it feels like I’m unheard or we bicker more.