During residency, showing up for your family is equally as important as job performance

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published October 9, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • If you're struggling with work and home life, you're not alone—many residents struggle to balance personal responsibilities, such as family time, with work responsibilities.

  • Clear communication with family members is a key part of maintaining a good work-life balance.

  • As a young physician or resident, it’s important to be flexible when it comes to caring for your children; it’s also important to have back-up childcare options in case of an emergency.

For many, postgraduate training coincides with other major life developments, such as getting married and starting a family. One AAMC survey found that 8% of graduating medical students already had children, and many more were on the verge of having them—18% were older than 29 years old and 25% were partnered.[] In a 2020 survey, Harvard researchers found that 34% of GME trainees became parents during training, with another 52% planning a family.[]

The following are some insights—based on the advice of medical students, residents, and fellows—on how to make time for family and loved ones during residency.

Clearly communicate with your partner

The key to a successful family dynamic is open and honest communication with your partner. Planning and scheduling should be discussed, advises an article by the AMA, as well as any frustrations or rigors of daily life.[] When many things need to be done at the same time, communication and prioritization help facilitate family time.

It’s important that partners work as a team to address issues as they arise. It’s also important for one partner to pick up the slack for the other when needed. 

For instance, as a resident, it’s a good idea to clearly inform your partner when you will be busy at work and unavailable for family responsibilities such as taking the kids to daycare or soccer practice. In turn, when you have some down time and your partner is stressed, it may be a good idea to return the favor.

Flexibility is key

Parenting requires flexibility, as kids’ needs and your work requirements change on a regular basis. By being flexible, tasks can be accomplished more quickly, which opens up time for family. 

Instead of assigning whose “job” it is to do the laundry or dishes, it’s important that everybody pitch in and do whatever’s necessary, according to Angela Kalcec, speaking of her experience to the AMA. 

"If something needs to get done, you just do it. From picking a child up from school to emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry, nothing is beneath either of us."

Angela Kalcec, AMA

Connect with your spouse

Your romantic relationship is a top priority and needs attention. It’s important to make time for your partner and block off date nights. You want to continue nurturing your marriage and avoid falling into a routine of just work and childcare. 

“Remember that fellowship is 2 years, but your relationship can and hopefully will last for a lifetime,” wrote Jason Hsu, MD, a retina specialist at Thomas Jefferson University, in a feature published in Retina Today.[] “You have a better chance of making this last part a reality by placing your significant other on the top of your list.” 

Plan carefully

When time is limited, it’s important to keep things tightly coordinated. One useful organizational tool, which Kalcec and her physician-husband take advantage of, is a shared virtual calendar, which can send reminders about upcoming activities.

Of course, even the best plans have a way of unraveling, and thus it’s important to improvise when needed. Don’t forget to always have back-up childcare for the kids, Kalcec says, in case of something urgent or unforeseen.

Optimize childcare with set shifts

In the hospital, the massive responsibility of caring for patients is often shared by physicians taking shifts. Similarly, you can take shifts with your partner when caring for your children.

According to Dr. Hsu, “My wife understood that I needed to get a decent amount of sleep, especially before I had to operate. Therefore, she ended up doing most of the weekday night shifts while I took the weekend ones. Of course, this meant no more sleeping in for me (and in fact, I felt much more rested on the weekdays)."

"This was a small sacrifice to make in order to still be able to function at my best during work hours."

Jason Hsu, MD, Retina Today

What this means for you

Many young physicians, residents, and fellows have families, and finding adequate time to devote to family responsibilities and activities can be challenging during your early career. Communication and planning are key to a strong family dynamic and will help you make the most of family time. It’s also important to share responsibilities with your spouse and pick up the slack as necessary.

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