Maybe It’s Not Such a Good Idea to Marry a Doctor…

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…especially if you’re a doctor yourself. One of the hallmarks of modern marriage in America is that people tend to marry other people who have similar educational attainments. This is particularly true of doctors. But a new study suggests that doctor-doctor marriages may need more life-support than others.

In the biggest study of married doctors to date, the American College of Surgeons surveyed nearly 8,000 of its members, 90% of whom were married. Of those, half had spouses or partners who did not work outside the home. About a third of the double-income couples were actually double-doctor duos, and in about a third of those marriages, both partners were surgeons. In fact, the study notes that something like 50% of female surgeons are married to physicians. (More on Too Many One-Night Stands? Blame Your Genes)

This is in keeping with current marital trends. Plus it just makes sense. Who’s better at understanding the stresses and strains of a physician’s life than another physician? Luckily, there are more female surgeons than there have been before, so there are more around to marry. And since medical students are busy — particularly those training to be surgeons — are more likely to socialize among their own. No wonder that the study suggests surgeon-surgeon marriages are on the rise.

You’d think that two-doctor families would be idyllic: not only are both parents well-paid and competent at handling Baby’s late night fever spike, but they’re also able to appreciate each other’s latest bit of O.R. gossip and compete to beat Gregory House at the correct diagnosis. But, it turns out, not so much. (More on ‘Love Hormone’ Oxytocin Enhances Men’s Memories of Mom — Good or Bad)

“Surgeons in dual physician relationships had greater difficulty in balancing their parenting and career responsibilities,” than those who had partners who stayed home or worked in other areas, finds the study, which was authored by Liselotte N. Dyrbye, an associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College. Specifically, two-doctor couples were more likely to delay having children and to feel that their work did not leave enough time for a family life.

For surgeons married to other surgeons, the picture was even grimmer. They were more likely to report that child-rearing had slowed their career, and they were more “likely to stay home from work to care for a sick child and more often surrogated their career” in favor of their partner’s career, the study said.

Half the surgeons married to other doctors said they had experienced career conflict with their spouse and only about a third of them thought they had enough time for their personal lives. Closer to 40% of doctors married to non-doctors felt that way. (More on Do Kids of Divorce Have Strokes More Often?)

Despite this, individuals from the two-surgeon families felt about the same amount of burnout and depression as surgeons married to non-surgeons. This doesn’t stop the study from concluding that “the higher prevalence of depressive symptoms and clinically significant lower mental quality of life among surgeons married or partnered to surgeons suggests that the work-life hurdles could be taking a toll on their mental health.”

Maybe if the smart doctors figure out how to manage the work-life balance thing, they can help the rest of us.

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