Surviving Residency: 10 Things I Learned while My Husband was a Surgery Resident

Surviving Residency: 10 Things I Learned While My Husband was a Surgery Resident

It’s July…Happy New Year!

I know, most people celebrate New Years in January, but for some of us, July 1st is the start of the “new year.”

See, I’m married to a doctor and my husband has been in training for the past 11 years…with two more to go.  Four years of medical school, five years of general surgery residency, two additional years of research and starting July 1st of this year, two years of surgical oncology fellowship.  Each of these “milestones” or transitions occurred in July.

This July is a big deal for us.

When we were in medical school, he initially thought he wanted to do ophthalmology or radiology, but as he progressed through his different rotations, it became increasingly obvious that neither of those were a good fit for him.  He loved surgery.  He tried to love a different specialty, but his passion as a physician was really in the operating room.

We knew the road to become a surgeon was really hard so we began looking for ways that our family could make it work.  Everybody I talked to – literally EVERYBODY – said that a general surgery residency was the worst thing that ever happened to their marriage and they wished they had never taken that path.


Now Aaron and I had a great marriage, but I was not naïve enough to believe that we were somehow immune to the challenges that these other couples had faced. Surgery residency is marked with 80-120 hour work weeks – consistently, for five years.  Some of the general surgery residency programs in the country have prided themselves that “no marriage has ever survived their program." (As though that is really something to be proud of....)

How were we ever going to make this work?  Our family was the most important thing to both of us, but honestly, I couldn’t see a way to navigate those years. This July marked the end of those five (turned seven) years that I was terrified would destroy my marriage. We made it.  And we didn’t just survive the process, we actually thrived during those years. But thriving was a choice.  A deliberate, daily choice.

Now that I am on the other end, I have many people ask me what tips I have for surviving residency.  Forgive the personal nature of this post.  I really wish there had been someone to tell me these things seven years ago.  For that reason, I'm sharing with you the 10 lessons I have learned in hopes that there is someone out there who will find it helpful.  I recognize that not all medical relationships are where the husband is the resident and the wife is home raising small children.  Often both partners are residents -which presents a totally different layer of complexity, or the resident partner is female.  I have used the pronouns to reflect my experience, not to be stereotypical.  {Lesson 1}