Med School Spouse Interview: Year 2

Hey friends! It has been a little crazy around here, but things are starting to get a little calmer so I’m hoping to blog more this summer! Matt is almost done with his first year of medical school, and I’m so proud of all his hard work and dedication. He is getting a much-deserved break this summer and I’m excited to travel around the east coast a bit more!

As we end our first year and start thinking about our second, I thought it would be a great opportunity to hear from one of my friends, Katie, whose husband is wrapping up his second year. She has some great words of wisdom to share!

Tell us a little bit about you and your DrH. How long have you been together?
My husband, Raffi, and I met in the Spring of 2014 on a church co-ed soccer team that we both played on. We got married in the Fall of 2015. For most of our marriage, I was an elementary school teacher and family/newborn photographer. Raffi was finishing up his coursework to apply for med school and working part-time as a pharmacy technician. Last year, I quit my job as a school teacher and became a realtor with Keller Williams. We knew this was the best choice for our family because it gives me a flexible schedule and I am able to work from home. On Thanksgiving Day 2018, our twins girls, Maddie and Evy, were born.

How has your relationship grown since you first started med school?
The beginning of first year was challenging because no one knows what med school is actually like. There is a lot of stress involved in the unknown. We had to rely on each other moving to a completely new place and starting in new challenges.

Year two is when we had kids, and having two at once will definitely make you grow together. We really had to work as a team to survive those newborn months. Except for the Sunday nights right before a test, Raffi would help me with all of the night feedings. Since having the girls, we have had so much more quality time as a family. Being present for the girls and me is Raffi’s number one priority, so he has focused on being very efficient when he is studying to allow for quality time for us. The girls are now six months old, and we are definitely in the routine of life with kids, but those first few months we had to trust God wasn’t going to give us more than we could handle. Now that we are on the other side of that, we can look back and feel like together we can handle anything that life throws at us.  

What’s something that has been better and something that has been worse about the second year of med school compared to the first year?
Second year is so much better. There is no anatomy lab, so that is hours in the week that they get back. There is also more of a calm in second year. Raffi knows what to expect and he knows how to study effectively. During first year, I would even get anxious on test days because every test felt like it *could* be the end of the world. Now every other Monday is just routine, and I know he will be fine because he has been doing this for almost two years. Nothing is worse, it is 100% better!

Do you have any tips for supporting your spouse during their second year?
This is where the teacher in me comes out. Most med students are very academically gifted. For most of their academic career they were the big fish in every academic situation. And then comes med school, where a bunch of big fish are all dropped into a pond together, which means that many of those fish are not longer at the top. And that is a shock. They feel like imposters and that maybe they aren’t good enough for med school.

That’s where growth and fixed mindsets make all the difference. A fixed mindset believes things like: “I am not smart enough”, “test scores define me”, or “I will never get better.” A growth mindset believes things like: “test scores don’t define me”, “I can learn from my mistakes”, and “I can do better next time.” Chances are, if your spouse is in med school, they probably think test scores define them, at least a little bit. That’s where you come in: you need to help them shift their mindset to one of growth. Even if they aren’t happy with their latest score, remind them of how they did better from the last time. Encourage them to learn from their mistakes. Ask them if they think they learned the material. With each semester, Raffi has grown more confident and effective in his studies and his grades reflect that. Sometimes he will come home and talk about how he is annoyed because if he had gotten one more question on the test right, his block grade would have rounded up to a better letter grade. Then I remind him of where he started and we laugh at how silly he is being about one test question 🙂

How have you kept yourself busy while your spouse is studying?
Last year before I had the girls I would hang out with friends from med school and work. We would go to the movies, go shopping, go get frozen yogurt… Pretty normal stuff. I also have a photography business on the side, so I could spend time working on that as well. Now that I have the girls, we go on walks with friends, go to the park, and run errands. I don’t have as much freedom to drop everything and hang out with friends. But if I wanted to do something in the evening, if Raffi is studying, we put them to bed and then I can go do something with a friend (or go to the grocery store baby-free). This was kind of a game changer for me, because if he was going to be busy and if it was possible for him to be working at home, there is no reason why he can’t be studying at home once the babies are in bed. So instead of feeling annoyed and trapped at home, I can go get stuff done.

I think the flip side of this is not filling my time completely so that there are times set aside for quality time together. It can be easy to just assume Raffi will be busy and go do whatever I want, but my job as a spouse it to protect that family time. Now that we have the girls, I have tried to protect many of their first experiences for when Raffi is available. Obviously he will not be able to see everything they do, no working parent would, but for things like the first time they eat food, go on the swing, go to the pool, holiday traditions, etc. I will try my best to wait to do that until he is free.

How have you found support as a medical school spouse?
I found my core group of friends through get-to-know-you events at the beginning of the first year. I think it is also important to have a community of people that are completely unrelated to med school. I would say that half of my community is not associated with the medical school in any way.

What do you wish people knew about med school?
Med school is completely different than nursing, physicians assistant, a masters program, and nurse practitioner school.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an incoming first or second year spouse?
It is completely possible to have a “normal” life and be in med school. The world says that life pretty much stops and you are stuck in a room studying 24/7. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Before med school ever starts, talk to your spouse about what your priorities are and what you want your life to look like. I am not saying that your life will look like that every day, that is unrealistic. For us, that is dinner together and family walks. Unless there is an insane test the next day, Raffi is home for dinner every night. We eat, take a walk, and put the girls to bed. If he needs to, he will study for an hour or two and then we watch a TV show. And to me, that doesn’t seem much different than someone who has a spouse who works a 9-5 job.

Another part of keeping things “normal” is having a life completely out of school. We found a church when we moved here and joined a community group. We meet with that group weekly and hang out sometimes on the weekend. We also know a lot of neighbors and hang out with them. There is something about running into someone that isn’t associated with the med school at the store that makes you feel like you are living a normal life. And in 3rd year, a lot of people move for rotations, so even though we are not moving, if we hadn’t made a community outside of med school we would have been left with very few friends.

If your spouse is about to start med school and you are worried about what that will look like for you, don’t listen to what the world says; do what is right for you and your family. There is a book about being a med school wife where it explains how in the world’s eyes, your spouse is the eagle and you are a sparrow. It is so easy to live a life to put the eagle on the pedestal, and the world will do that. But you are married to your spouse and you are a team. You need to know which sacrifices and roles that you take on are sustainable for the long run, and what is detrimental to you and your family. There will be times that you make big sacrifices for your spouse, that is just the nature of med school. But you should be able to live a joy-filled, “normal” life through this time.

Thanks so much to Katie for sharing, I hope you all enjoyed reading about the second year of medical school from the spouse’s perspective as much as I did!

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