Rewards and Challenges of Two-Physician Marriages


For hospitalist Kirsten N. Kangelaris, MD, assistant clinical professor in the Division of Hospital Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), there are several benefits to being married to a physician. "It's nice to be able to relate with your spouse on a professional, as well as a personal, level," she says.

Although coordinating schedules can be challenging, one of the pluses of being married to another physician is that your spouse understands the lifestyle, says Sarina B. Schrager, MD, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. In 2007, Dr. Schrager surveyed female physicians (WMJ. 106(5);251-255) and found that most reported that there were benefits to having a physician partner.

Making Work Work

Keith Ashby, MD, is a hospitalist and intensivist at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, La., and regional director for Hospitalists Management Group (HMG), supervising three other hospitals from Lafayette to Houston. He and his wife, Agnes, a rheumatologist in private practice, met in Chicago 17 years ago, when he was an attending and she a resident in rheumatology. "It truly does help to have your best friend as a support and also a colleague," he says, though the scheduling can sometimes be daunting. "It takes some creative planning and ingenuity to figure out how to couple work and family responsibilities so that neither comes up short."

One way Dr. Kangelaris and her husband, Gerald, a fourth-year resident in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at UCSF, manage is to avoid compartmentalizing tasks: Each takes a part in childcare, preparing meals, and other household duties when the other is on duty at the hospital. On the advice of a mentor, Dr. Kangelaris and her husband hired a weekly housecleaning service—a boon for mental health and relationship time, she says.

Contingency Plans

Dr. Ashby and his wife moved away from "the comfort of family" when they left Chicago to embark on their dual careers. Without aunts, uncles, or grandparents to turn to for sharing the childcare load, they built a strong support network of friends and other working parents to help bridge the gap.

Dr. Kangelaris and her husband enrolled their now-2-year-old daughter in a university-sponsored childcare center when she was an infant. They also make an effort to stagger their clinical duties. She admits that most of the flexibility in work schedules is coming from her direction right now because her husband's time is "not his own.". There are many young families in the division at UCSF, and Dr. Kangelaris says most of her scheduling requests are honored.

"In a lot of ways, academic medicine does provide more flexibility," Dr. Schrager says. She advises job-seeking residents to anticipate future goals. "Look for a place that, regardless of what your life situation is now, might be flexible for you in the future."

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer based in California.

Protect Relationship Time

Instituting a “date night” is one popular strategy for staying in touch with your partner. Now that their teenagers have full social schedules, weekly date nights are a little bit challenging, Dr. Ashby admits, so he and his physician wife plan getaways: If one partner travels to a medical meeting, the other tags along; if the kids are at summer camp, they take an extended trip.

With a 2-year-old and a husband who is a surgical resident, Dr. Kangelaris says they struggle to reach a work-life balance, and look forward to a time when they can reinstitute their own date night.

Just be sure, advises Jim Bird, president and CEO of Atlanta-based training firm, that you don’t inadvertently turn date night into meeting night. Table the conversations about work and bills until another time.

Dr. Schrager couldn’t agree more, noting most female physicians in her survey of dual-physician couples noted that they try to limit talk about work, then turn to other subjects.—GH

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