MARRIAGE & MEDICINE
raised three children and subsequently became a teaching practice
for medical students rotating through the hospitals in the region.
They only retired a few years ago. I remain in awe of the life they
created together and grateful for the fact that they kept me on their
annual Christmas card list even though I was a lousy correspondent.
As I think of the other physician couples that I know or have
known well in my life, it is clear that each of their stories are unique.
I believe this to be true of all physician couples. Out of interest, I
looked through the 2019 GLMS Pictorial Roster. There are 187 phy-
sician couples listed. That is 374 doctors in committed relationships
just within our immediate area. (Indeed, there may be more since
not all local physicians are GLMS members.) I found that number
to be staggering, far higher than I ever would have guessed. I still
believe that each of those represents its own unique story.
There is not a lot of recent literature available on physician cou-
ples/dual physician partnerships (1,2,3) . What I have read attributes the
significant rise in such partnerships to the much greater number of
women graduating from medical school over the last 20 to 30 years,
and their apparent increasing tendency to marry male physicians.
That seems to be a reasonable point, but physician couples may be
committed but unmarried or in same sex partnerships. The decisions
to be faced within those partnerships will originate from the same
sources. Does one career take precedence over the other? Does one
partner change careers or commute long distances if satisfactory
positions can’t be obtained in the same town or city? Do partners
live separately over prolonged periods of time if training requires
that? How are household chores distributed? How is child care
distributed? How is private personal time achieved as a couple?
How are educational debts discharged? Do the characteristics which
are attributed to physicians, such as an authoritative tendency in
decision making and an expectation that others will follow their
directions, make them more or less likely to succeed as couples?
Who initiates the compromise and how is that learned?
Does the obligation, dedication, anxiety, exhilaration, disap-
pointment, satisfaction and exhaustion inherent in the practice of
medicine find a more or less sympathetic/supportive attitude from
a partner who understands how all those things really feel? Or do
couples become overwhelmed in the face of adversarial forces dou-
bled against them? I do not know if reams of statistics and pages of
social commentary will be dedicated to the topic of physician couples
in the near or distant future. It is no more reassuring for a physician
to be a statistic than it is for a patient to be an interesting case.
When I was a first or second-year medical student I became
aware of a house officer working on one of the units at Manchester
Royal Infirmary. She was married to a young man who played the
violin in the Hallé Orchestra. They lived not far from my apartment
at the time. One afternoon I walked by and noticed him practicing
by the window. I thought what a wonderful choice she had made.
Simplistically, I thought that if they ever had children, he would be
essentially a stay-at-home dad. In those days, marriage was not on
my radar screen so it was just an observation tucked away at the
back of my mind.
Now through the long retrospectoscope, I can see that the career
change that I felt I needed to make, after marrying my urologist
husband, led me to a specialty that I loved. As my career morphed
over time, I could always rely on him to point out the downsides
of the choices I was contemplating. In the end it always came with
the reassurance that he would support my final decision. An occa-
sion arose when he made that support known in public. I had the
benefit of a professional insider rooting for me, and for that I will
always be grateful.
1) Should Doctors Marry Doctors? Forestal T. MD https://www.kevinmd.
com; Mar. 9, 2016
2) Dual Physician Households; Strategies for the 21 st . Century. Ferrante L, MD,
MHS; Mody L, MD, MSc., JAMA, 2019; 321(22): 2161-2162
3) Challenges of Dual-Physician Couples. Henderson C.E, MD; Roxland B.E,
JD,Mbioethics; Webb R.J, MBA, JAMA, 2019; 322(15): 1519-1520
Dr. Amin is a retired diagnostic radiologist.
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