HealthMay 14, 2020

Physicians dating colleagues: Know what you’re getting into

By: Ogie M. Ezeoke, MD

Physicians dating other physicians and healthcare professionals makes sense. After all, most doctors enter the field of medicine during young adulthood, a time in life when many are forging romantic relationships and getting ready to build families. And all through medical school, residency and perhaps fellowship and attending-hood as well, we spend most of our waking hours—in the hospital and outside of it—surrounded by our colleagues, which can limit the dating pool.

Of course, there are clear benefits to dating a fellow clinician: There’s mutual understanding about the privileges and responsibilities of medical care. However, there can also be challenges, including clashes about clinical care or hierarchical roles at work. Without a foundation of good communication, mutual patience and reciprocal respect, these relationships will struggle. So, before you make a dinner reservation, here a few things to keep in mind.

Matches in medicine

Beyond geographical proximity, physicians are brought together by the shared interests common among those who study medicine. As you’ve likely found, you and your colleagues are prone to sharing everything from tales from medical school to war stories involving the ever-evolving electronic medical charting system. This comfort with each other can bring you closer, allowing you to move on to more personal topics like your families, your pets and your challenges and successes with your co-physicians.

There’s also catharsis that comes with unpacking your day, whether it was blissful or challenging. This can be particularly satisfying when the listener can empathize and even share similar encounters. There’s a remarkable emotional investment that comes with medicine—one that tends to leave us vulnerable and more open, one that brings us closer to our colleagues. This isn’t to say that significant others working in other professions can’t relate to your stories, but physicians dating other clinicians may find that their partners can particularly identify with the ins and outs of their days.

Leaving work at work

Physicians may benefit from stepping outside of medicine when trying to meet a future partner because this can allow them to build a life that’s not entirely about their work.

Although the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires work-hour restrictions for residents, it’s often a Herculean task to abandon the mental aspect of patient care when you leave the hospital. This isn’t surprising, but it can make focusing on other life activities more difficult. It’s important to consider that a relationship with someone else who works in medicine may make this even more challenging.

Struggling with scheduling

New resident physicians may work up to 80 hours a week, with weekends only occasionally open. Your limited time may be difficult for any nonclinician to appreciate—or schedule around—whereas your colleagues in the hospital may be more understanding about planning quick lunches between duties. They may also better appreciate getaway dates when you both have a day off.

Good communication is key to building trust in any relationship, and you’ll likely find it easier to communicate with a colleague about the demands of the hospital and any need to change plans.

The problems with hierarchical roles

A challenge that often arises with physicians dating other clinicians is the hierarchy of medicine and how to forget about it at the end of the working day (or night).

When you’re in a relationship that involves either residents and fellows, attendings and residents, fellows and nurses or any other combination of healthcare professionals, you may need to employ some compartmentalization involving work and home to avoid conflicts of interest—and outright conflict.

Respecting each other’s roles and understanding the value each brings to a team will allow your romantic relationship to flourish outside the hospital. This will make it easier to keep any professional differences separate from your romantic relationship.

Physicians and romance

It’s important to take the time to think through what dating a fellow clinician may mean for your work-life balance. A relationship with a colleague can have many advantages, but you may encounter many challenges as well. Before you embark on a relationship with a co-worker, make sure the particular joys and struggles that come with it are right for you.

Ogie M. Ezeoke, MD