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Life Hacks for the Medical Family

Created October 5, 2017 by Amy Rakowczyk
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In my previous article, “Division of Labor: How to Keep a Household Running While Your Spouse is In Training,” I discussed ways you and your spouse can start the conversation about addressing and assigning all the non-medical school tasks, such as household duties and chores. Take a moment to read the previous article if you haven’t already, and then dive into some of the practical tips laid out in this article. Let’s get you from the planning and organizing stage, to actually getting stuff done!

To begin, ask yourself and your spouse the following questions:

  1. What are the priorities for your life and home?
  2. What are your expectations for how the household will function and who will be responsible for each task?
  3. How do you want to spend your limited free time together? Would you like to see your spouse giving service to your home and family, or would you like to forget about all the household stuff and do an activity together? Or something in between?

Once you’ve found some clarity on the main priorities of your household/family, how you’d like to spend time together, and who is responsible for what, you can begin forming a strategy and putting it into practice. The goal is to minimize the time you spend on the household tasks (that aren’t fun for either of you) and keep both you and your partner as sane as possible.

The following tips are affectionately called “life hacks.” They are thoughtful and deliberate ways of taking care of your home and responsibilities while easing the burden for all parties involved. Let’s dive in!

No Time or Desire To Complete a Task

You may have discovered during your discussion on household chores and responsibilities, that there are some tasks that neither you nor your spouse care to do or have time for, but alas, it still needs to be done. Consider thinking outside the box to find some help in these areas. Medical school and training budgets mean that there’s little cash for outsourcing, but you can get creative! Here are two options:

  1. Swap, barter, or hire a friend at a lower rate than an industry professional.

I was overwhelmed with meal planning, shopping, and cooking during med school. I had a friend who loved to cook and was looking for work. I asked her if she’d consider making us a meal a couple times a week, and she happily accepted! She planned the meals, shopped for the ingredients, and cooked the meals. We negotiated a compensation rate that worked for both of us. It was amazing! For about a year, we had delicious, home-cooked meals three nights a week with leftovers. She even worked around some food sensitivities. It was a win-win!

  1. Ask your family to hire a cleaning crew for your birthday, a holiday, or just because.

A cleaning crew for your birthday? Maybe it doesn’t sound too exciting at first, but just imagine after a long day, walking in the door to your home in pristine condition and smelling fresh. That’s a pretty great feeling! Soak it in, relax, and enjoy not having to “do” anything at that moment. What a relief and weight lifted! Periodically having someone spruce up your home can be an incredible gift.

Automation

You’ve likely heard about “automation” in regards to finances, and if you haven’t already implemented some of the tools out there, now is a good time to do it. If you invest a little time right now to get everything set up, you’ll save a lot of time down the road.  Try to have as many bills and other payments on auto-pay as possible, and set up your savings to be on autopilot. Read more on finances HERE.

Food

We all have to eat, and during medical school we hope to still have tasty and healthy meals that don’t have a long preparation time or overly increase that loan debt. It’s a tall order, but there are a few things you can do to help you stay out of those fast-food drive-thrus.

First, can you set aside an hour or two to make a list of meal options and make a meal plan for the week, or even longer term? Try searching “easy meals” or “easy snacks” to give you some options. You’ll want to have some pre-made, or easily made, meals and snacks on hand that can quickly be put together.

Some basic starting points include: simple smoothie recipes (like this one) and making a larger batch to keep in the fridge to last 2-3 mornings, overnight oatmeal, or some hybrid of the two. Search for “homemade protein bars” and you will find a universe of inexpensive healthy snacks that can be made on the cheap. Break out that crock pot and make some meals that will last several days. Think “multiple meals” when cooking, so your leftovers can be quickly reheated or simply scooped into a serving dish if served cold.

Scheduling

During the hard months of medical school, your spouse will come home late completely exhausted, but they will still have assignments and other work to do. They will try to stay up and plow through it to get it all done. For some, this system works, but if your spouse is struggling, consider switching up the schedule a little bit. I’m going to suggest something that at first makes people cringe, but hear me out!

Your spouse could try going to bed early, when they are really wanting sleep, and then wake up several hours BEFORE work the next morning to complete tasks. I call these “4am wakeups.” My spouse is not a morning person, so this did not work for us, BUT I have seen this strategy pay off big for some other medical families. Picture this: your spouse comes home from a long day, you spend 30 minutes catching up, then they get ready for bed and hit the lights. They get up at 4am, giving themselves about 2-3 hours to work before heading in. Could it work for you?

During study periods, like Step 1, I have seen great success in couples where the med student wakes up early and has very focused and dedicated studying all morning and into the afternoon. They put in about ten hours of studying by mid-afternoon and then they can close the books, relax, and hang out for the rest of the day. Feeling accomplished with their progress, they are physically and emotionally available to spent the rest of the day and evening with their spouse and friends, while also having time for some self-care like going the gym. I highly recommend giving it a try!

Conclusion

Regardless of how you divide up the labor or how you plan to get things done, there is no way one person can do it all. The reality is that some things just won’t get done. Birthdays sometimes are forgotten, important calls haven’t been made, and there’s always piles of laundry – but it’s all good! You’re both just doing your best!

Strive for patience and compassion with each other, even in the moments when everything feels unbalanced and unfair. The pendulum will swing back around, and the more understanding you can be with each other, whatever stage you’re in, the better chance you’ll have for some happiness and enjoyment.

If you want to go even deeper into this subject, take a look at “50 Simple Things to Save Your Life During Residency” by Ben Brown, MD. He has advised many residents during his career, and has collected a treasure trove of tips for surviving in time-deprived situations such as medical school and residency.

Best of luck!

About the Author
Amy Rakowczyk is a medical spouse, mother, writer, singer, and former voice instructor. She currently resides in Galveston, TX with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys helping other spouses navigate the world of medicine and actively participates in support groups and activities. Her husband is a Family Medicine resident at UTMB Galveston and did his medical training at The Ohio State University.

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