Marriage and Medical School: The Pros and Cons of Balancing Education and Married Life

With the increasing age of students attending medical school (the American Association of Medical Colleges estimates that 10% of students beginning medical school are 27 years old or older) comes an increasing rate of medical students who are married or who get married while they are still in training. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to balancing marriage and medical school–and important considerations to keep in mind for married medical students.

The Pros of Married Life as a Medical Student…
Married medical students have found that there are a number of advantages to being married while dealing with the rigors of medical school. These are mostly in the form of the emotional support and understanding that students can derive from their spouses and the honing of time management skills that are needed for balancing both a marriage and the demands of medical school.
Marital Support
One of the most frequently cited advantages of married student life is the marital support that students can gain from having a spouse to turn to after a stressful day in class or on rounds. Having a spouse to help manage the household and have meals ready at the end of a long day is also an advantage. This is especially true if your spouse is also a doctor or at least in healthcare, as they can better understand the particular stresses and challenges that you face in day-to-day work.
Better Time Management
Married students also report that they feel like the need to schedule household duties and time together made them better time managers as a whole, something which is critical for success in medical training. They also cite that marriage helps them prioritize their time, which also spills over into educational life. Couples report that carving time out for each other–such as having a designated “date night” once a week–can help couples feel like they are able to have enough time together to keep their relationship working.
Camaraderie of Doctor-Doctor Marriages
Dr. Jauhaur, in his piece in the New York Times entitled “Doctor Marries Doctor: Good Medicine” notes that there is a recent trend of marriages between doctors–including his own. This doctor intermarriage is a fairly recent trend, reflecting an increase of women in medical school and medicine (in fact, women now make up 50% of most medical students and 20% of all practicing doctors).
He notes that these marriages, despite the constraints of time and hectic schedules placed on both partners, tend to be successful, citing a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at 1,208 doctors and found that dual-MD marriages were relatively happy and stable and that couple reported greater satisfaction in their work, an increased household income, and greater participation of both partners in child rearing and household maintenance.
…and the Cons
It should be noted, however, that there can be a number of disadvantages to being a married medical student, mostly due to the fact that the stress and time constraints of medical training can put a strain on the marital relationship and complicate matters involving financial aid and housing.
Time Constraints
Not surprisingly, one of the most commonly cited problems for married medical students is the difficulty of balancing the demands of medical student life with the demands of a marriage. Long hours on rotations, stress, and the need to miss birthdays, anniversaries and other family events because of work and study can take an emotional toll on a medical student’s relationships. Students also complain that the extra time they need for their spouses makes it harder to have time with fellow students for study and other school-related activities.
Housing Problems
Housing can pose another problem for married med students. Some medical schools have provisions for married students and some do not. This might limit the range of medical schools to which a student applies. Also, students should be aware that if they are paying for some of their housing expenses with a college investment account known as a 529 plan, there might be some restrictions on how they spend that money. For example, if a campus-based house costs $2,500 but a couples opts to live off-campus in an apartment that costs $3,000 a semester, they will still only be able to draw out $2,500 per term and make up the rest with their own resources.
Financial Difficulty
Marriage is expensive! Whether getting married before or during medical school, it is important for students to sit down, assess financial strengths and weaknesses and come up with a plan that will allow for financial support while completing medical education. This can be easier if one of the spouses is already working, but more difficult if both spouses are still students. Some married medical students will have to rely on parents and family to help support the household financially during the course of school. However, because of the new realities of married student life, some medical schools are coming up with solutions to this problem, such as the University of Cincinnati which several years ago began offering scholarships to married students to help offset the cost of medical training.
Risk for Divorce 
Dr. Tanya Grizzard, writing in the American Family Physician, notes that divorce rates among married medical students are high, between 20% and 50% depending on the speciality area. Grizzard, who herself married as a medical student, notes that there are many risk factors that put a strain on marriage during medical school. The stressors like long hours and emotional strain can make it more difficult to make a marriage work and there is also the problem of what Grizzard calls the “home/work gap”, the fact that physicians start to feel more at home on the wards than they do in their own houses, a phenomenon which can be even more marked if both partners are physicians.
Difficulty Balancing Work and Childcare
For women who marry and then get pregnant while a medical student, this can also present extra challenges in their career path to becoming a doctor. Medical programs do not currently have provisions for maternity leave and often this can result in a woman having to postpone or delay her medical education. Research has shown that this lack of provisions can lead to a further exacerbation of physician shortages — not just in the United States but worldwide and that on-site day care services and more support for new mothers could help reduce the severity of this problem.
This might seem like a lot to think about, but these are all important considerations to keep in mind when you are a married medical student or one who is planning on getting married during the course of their medical education.
General Advice for Married Meds
In order to reduce the stresses of marriage during medical school:
● If you are planning to get married during the course of your studies, reach out to family and friends to help with the planning of the wedding–especially if both of you are in medical school. This can take a lot of the pressure off and allow you to focus in on your studies. Timing is important, too: getting married while on a break in between semesters will give you time for at least a short honeymoon before beginning the next term.
● Discuss family planning ahead of time to determine whether or not you want to start a family right away or wait until after your training is over. If you decide not to wait to get pregnant, discussing issues like child care and financial considerations related to child-rearing is important, too.
● If you are married or planning on getting married as a medical student, be sure that your medical school has provisions for married students; some will have on-campus married student house available, while some will have college-owned off-campus housing that married students can take advantage of. Otherwise, plans will have to be made for rental apartment or house off-campus.
● Marital status can affect taxation as a medical student. While married couples have the option of either filing jointly or separately, there are advantages and disadvantages to each course and an affianced couple should talk to a tax advisor about what is the best course for their particular needs.
● Marriage before or during medical school can also affect issues around student loans, at least the ones which require proof of household income as part of their application. Thus, any loans which carry labels like “Income Sensitive”, “Income Based” or “Income Dependent” can be affected. It is also important to note that, as a married medical student, information on your parent’s income is no longer needed and you are considered to be independent of your parents.
● In other matters of loans, it is also important to note that if both spouses are students, a Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will still have to be filled out each year for each student. The FAFSA will ask for both spouses’ incomes and this can affect the Expected Family Contribution, which in turn can affect the amount of money that is available through some loans and scholarships. However, unsubsidized loans and PLUS loans are not affected by marital status.
To sum up, marriage before or during medical school can make life more complicated in regards to taxation, finances, housing and even just spending time together. However, there are many advantages that married med students cite, including the emotional support offered by spouses and the honing of time management skills which make balancing the demands of medical education and marriage a little bit easier.
References
Crutchlow, A. Marriage and Medical School. Christian Medical Fellowship. 2006.
www.cmf.org/publishing/context/?context=article&id=1798
Getting Married During Medical School or Residency. American Association of Medical
Colleges. 2015.
https://students-residents.aamc.org/financial-aid/article/getting-married-during-medical-school-or-residency/
Gobel, R. 4 Financial Considerations for Married Grad Students. U.S. News and World Report. 2014.
www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/paying/articles/2014/03/04/4-financial-considerations-for-married-graduate-students
Grizzard, T. Love in the Time of Medical School. American Family Physician. 66(5) 907-908. 2002.
www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0901/p907.html
Koenig, A. A Gift of Love: New Scholarship Helps Married Medical Students. University of
Cincinnati Health Center. 2009.
http://healthnews.uc.edu/publications/findings/?/8110/8123/
Jauhar, S. Doctor Marries Doctor: Good Medicine. The New York Times. 1999.
www.nytimes.com/1999/03/23/health/essay-doctor-marries-doctor-good-medicine.html

Brian Wu

Brian Wu graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology, and graduated from the Keck School of Medicine (University of Southern California) with an MD with a focus on holistic care and treatment. He currently holds a PhD in integrative biology and disease for his research in exercise physiology and rehabilitation.

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