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How Dating In Residency Made Me a Better Human

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“Don’t you want to get out of here at a reasonable time?” one of my attendings replied to me after I asked him if I could teach my intern to dock the robot for a hysterectomy, which was starting at 4 p.m. Teaching certainly does slow cases down, but as residents, we are here to learn. 

“I don’t care what time I leave,” I told him. True, I did have to be back at 5:30 a.m. for rounds the following morning, but residency is only four years, and we need to be able to operate and teach as much as we can so that we enter attending-hood confident in our skills. 

“Why don’t you dock this time?” He replied. “I’d like to see my wife and kids before they go to bed tonight,” he replied. 

My mentality when I started residency was that I had so much to learn, and four years seemed almost too short to learn the intricacies of ob/gyn. I have always appreciated the benefits of hard work, and was advised to continue with that mentality as I progressed through my training. 

“Stay late to do those extra deliveries as much as you can, Kathleen.”

“You’ll only get to do a few of these before you’re on your own.”

“Take on those complex cases while you are still a resident.” 

I was applauded by my attendings for coming in at night or on the weekend to cover emergent cases like ruptured ectopics, and I built my reputation as a reliable and hard-working resident. I reminded myself often that residency is a finite period of time, and with nothing holding me accountable to show up at home at a reasonable time — like pets, or kids, or a significant other — I spent the little free time I had on work-related things.

So yes, I spent my free time working on my research requirement, Christmas vacation taking my Level 3 board exam, and stayed until 9 p.m. to operate on a semi-regular basis, but I was a resident physician, and supposed to not have any free time, or a life outside of work, which is why they called us residents, right? 

The start of my senior years of residency brought more responsibility caring for complex patients, but there were less of them than the low-risk patients I had spent my junior years caring for. Suddenly, I found myself with more free time. I met a nice young man on a dating app at the start of my PGY3 year. He was also a resident at my hospital, going into radiology. We started dating and subsequently moved in together.

Although I was already usually efficient at getting my tasks done, I started making more of an effort to leave the hospital when my shift was scheduled to end. I stopped doing evening social rounds on the different gynecologic surgical services or staying late to do an extra delivery, which I worried would make me a worse doctor, but didn’t. I reminded myself that we have coverage 24 hours a day, and the oncoming resident could do that. I made an effort to use any available free time while at work to get my EMR in-basket and pre-charting done so I would not have to do it at home. Sure, this meant that when on call at 3 a.m. I would be sending patient messages through their portal, but they didn’t seem to mind. 

I found my mentality becoming much more like my attending during that robotic hysterectomy, wanting to leave the hospital at a reasonable time, so I could spend time with my boyfriend, who was usually waiting for me to eat dinner. 

In return, I found myself being a better human being. My boyfriend and I would often go on a walk when I got home from work, and my phone recently notified me that my step count was up. I realized I felt better mood-wise when I wasn’t sitting on my couch looking at the patient list on my cell phone, obsessing over if there was something I could have done differently, or wondering if I should have stayed later to help the oncoming team with their tasks. 

My boyfriend has since started a residency of his own, and we are now in a long distance relationship. I have found myself starting to fall back into those habits that I kept when I was single: staying late at the hospital and spending my free time working on residency related administrative tasks. I don’t have any regrets about not making dating a priority earlier on in my training, because being single allowed me to say “yes” to opportunities early and often. But it was only when I had a partner at home that I became more intentional with my time. With my newfound knowledge of what life can be like while partnered, I think that I'm able to now keep myself in a better balance. 

What is your case for being single versus dating in residency? Share in the comments.

Kathleen Ackert is a resident physician in obstetrics & gynecology at St. Luke’s University Health Network. She is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Siena College. When she is not in the hospital, she can be found in coffee shops writing narrative medicine pieces or eating in restaurants that offer low-lit dining experiences. She enjoys exploring the latest fitness craze, watering her house plants, and instagramming pictures of fancy lattes at @caffeinewithkathleen. She was a 2021-2022 Doximity Op-Med Fellow, and continued as a 2022-2023 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.

Image by GoodStudio / Shutterstock

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