MARRIAGE & MEDICINE
MARRIAGE AND MEDICINE: DUAL PHYSICIAN COUPLES
AUTHORS Mary Helen Davis, MD and Al Martin, MD
and a career
verance and commit-
ment. We will have been married 42 years this August, having met
in college, married shortly after graduation then attended medical
school at different institutions (University of Louisville for Dr. Mary
Helen Davis and University of Kentucky for Dr. Al Martin). We
started out as a house divided. By the time we were graduated from
medical school, we had managed to get Al transferred to UofL, have
two children and acquire an additional 10 years of educational debt.
We were in one of the last classes that had a small number of female
students. The women comprised about 25% of the class of 1982, and
we ended with six medical couples. Since those days, medical schools
have obtained gender equity and medical marriages constitute
about 40% in physicians, according to a recent AMA study. Dual
physician couples and families face multiple challenges. However,
these unions bring a remarkable amount of stability, with much
lower divorce rates than the general population, in fact lower than
physicians with non-MD spouses, according to a 2019 AMA study.
In addition to the challenges, there are clear advantages to the
doctor-doctor relationship. The first advantage is that of conve-
nience. Medical school and residency training are time consuming
endeavors that make seeking and maintaining a new relationship
challenging. This is a time you spend together with your peers
and fellow students more than anyone else; it is just a bit easier
when your personal and professional time overlap. Medicine is
a very demanding and possessive partner. Having someone who
understands that the relationship will always be a “threesome” is
a definite advantage. This shared understanding of the experience
greatly reduces interpersonal sensitivity and frustration over com-
ing home late, or not at all, and missed dinners and family events.
“Traumatic bonding” is often the most intense, and having the same
shared bond of medical training has its own intensity. Managing
the intensity of both medicine and marriage is a prerequisite for
personal and professional success. After convenience, there are quite
a few “C” words that one must remember and attend to regularly.
These include communication, collaboration, coordination, com-
promise, commitment, competing demands, contingency planning
and complications—to name a few.