Navigating Family Dynamics as a Physician

August 2, 2017
Kaplan Test Prep

Learn how to navigate family dynamics as a physician.

Fostering healthy family dynamics leads a healthy career in medicine.

Physicians spend so much time focusing on the professional aspects of their jobs, when their personal lives have just as much of an effect on their overall success and wellbeing. As a physician in training, it’s important that you are aware of and prepared for some of the unique family dynamics that come into play in this profession.

Here are some tips on how to maintain a healthy marriage, appropriate boundaries with family members, and your own sense of identity outside of work:

Family dynamics when one spouse is a doctor

Being in a marriage where one or both spouses is in the medical field can pose unique challenges for the entire family. As difficult as the journey to medicine is on the doctor in training, the spouse shoulders as much of the burden. Thus, it’s important to communicate openly with your partner about what is expected of you throughout your medical training and ways your family may need to adjust.  

One physician’s wife explains the importance of seeing her spouse’s medical journey as their family’s shared journey, rather than resenting him for his. “Our medical journey has showed me that there are good people everywhere, I can maintain meaningful friendships from afar, we can set and accomplish goals, and that our family is the center of our world, no matter where we live.”

According to a study in the British Medical Journal, marriages between physicians are more likely to work out than marriages in other high stress fields like business and law. However, there are certain cases where you may feel it’s appropriate to get a prenup, not as a gesture of pessimism but as a way to make each other feel protected and ensure you’re in the marriage for the right reasons.

Family members seeking free medical advice

Being the doctor of the family has it’s perks and downsides. On one hand, you’re highly respected and admired for all your achievements. Everyone can relate to matters of health, so you’ll never have problems finding things to talk about at family gatherings. On the other hand, you are always working after hours, constantly sought out by family members for free medical advice. Not only can this seem burdensome, it can have ethical implications as well. For your sake and theirs, it’s important to know how to set appropriate boundaries.

Many physicians rightfully see giving their family members medical advice their privilege and responsibility. As one physician explains in a recent Medscape article, “Sometimes what they’re doing is potentially harmful or doesn’t make sense, or they’re spending a lot of money on something that we know doesn’t work. It makes me feel better personally to make those kinds of interventions.”

It’s totally natural to want to use your medical expertise to give your family an advantage, but there are ways to do so that don’t put either party at risk. Regarding the more serious conditions or ambiguous requests, there is often a middle ground—for example, rather than trying to diagnose a problem yourself, use your doctor card to get them into the emergency room quickly so it’s less of a convenience for them.

Familial pressure to go into medicine

Both in the US and around the world, becoming a doctor is seem as a sign of status and prestige. When their kids are very young, parents begin planting this desire in their kids, which continues throughout their adolescence. Thus, many students begrudgingly pursue an arduous career in medicine to please their parents, rather than choosing it of their own volition. Apart from this parental pressure being intrusive, it’s also a big cause of depression, burnout, and suicide.

An article in The Guardian seeks to level with parents about the dangers of such family dynamics: “If you are a parent and your child desperately wants to study medicine, the greatest favour you could do her is help her distinguish between a job and a vocation. On the other hand, if your reluctant child has a parent who desperately wants him to study medicine, step back for a moment and consider the statistics. Forcing your child to become a doctor might turn out to be the worst parenting decision you ever made.”

There are resources out there now to help students guard themselves against this parental pressure. Among them is a short book called The Ultimate Guide on How Not to Get Pressured Into Pre-Med for the First- Generation Immigrant Kid.

To help you navigate family dynamics amid the world of medicine, we offer free resources and medical advising sessions. Call 1-800-KAP-TEST to speak with an advisor today.

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