Romance during residency: Is it OK to date a co-resident?

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 19, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Dating a co-resident comes with risks, but it isn’t necessarily against the rules.

  • Before pursuing a romantic interest at work, familiarize yourself with relevant human resource policies for information about how it could impact your career.

  • If a relationship with a fellow resident gets serious, keep your supervisors in the loop, and make sure to share the news together.

Residents spend most of their time at work, and close bonds with colleagues may develop into romantic sparks. However, navigating this situation without harming your reputation can be tricky. You can avoid violating written or unwritten codes of conduct by exercising a little extra discretion before dating at work. Here are some tips to help you come through the other side unscathed.

Tread lightly from the start

Relationships come with unique risks, especially in a professional setting such as the medical field. Before pursuing a romantic interest, weigh the potential pros and cons carefully. 

Factors that can make a residency romance off-limits include cheating and unequal power dynamics. If one of the involved parties is married or in a serious relationship, the infidelity is bound to reflect negatively on you both, no matter the surrounding circumstances. 

It’s also best to avoid dating someone who isn’t your professional equivalent. Relations between bosses and subordinates are a no-no because they come with an inherent conflict of interest that others are bound to scrutinize.[]

It’s a good idea to review your contract and look into workplace policies related to dating at your facility. Certain specialties and hospitals might have different attitudes about romantic relationships between co-residents. Make sure you’re careful not to jeopardize your position—or your reputation. Review the rules and avoid patterns of behavior that can leave others questioning your priorities and dedication at work.

Keep work separate

Clear boundaries between your personal and professional life are a must, but dating a co-resident may start to blur those lines.

Even if your relationship is out in the open, you’ll need to interact like professionals during the work day.

Limit your discussions about social plans until after the workday. Never air your grievances or complain about each other to others in the program. You should also be intentional about avoiding public displays of affection on your campus. Err on the side of caution to avoid seeming unprofessional to your coworkers or patients.

Agree to stay amicable

Conflicts happen in relationships, even for the best-matched couples. However, if you go through a breakup with someone from your program, it’s in both of your best interests to be kind and remain professional. Have a conversation when you first start getting serious about how you would handle a breakup or other relationship issues in view of coworkers and supervisors.

If you can’t trust the person to remain professional no matter what happens, they simply may not be worth the risk to your reputation and career.

Prepare yourself for the added stress of potentially having to work with someone and spend time with them on a daily basis after the relationship goes sour. If you can feel confident accepting the challenge, you might have what it takes to date a co-resident.

Tell others at the right time

Perhaps the biggest challenge when dating during residency is deciding when to let others know about your relationship. Understandably, you may prefer to wait until establishing a stable foundation before sharing the news.

However, waiting too long can seem deceptive and may get you in more trouble than if you had been open from the start.

If possible, reach out to a respected mentor for advice. When you’re ready, you can confirm your relationship status to others without sharing too many details for gossip fodder. Telling others on your terms lets you control the narrative more than letting speculation run wild. Be sure to keep your relationship off your social media accounts until you’ve addressed the situation with the people in your program. Consider talking to your direct supervisors first, so they don’t feel blindsided by the news when it inevitably comes to light.[]

What this means for you

Everyone has an individual level of risk aversion, and starting a romantic relationship with someone in your residency program is certainly a risk. There’s no official playbook on how to pull it off, but pursuing a romantic interest at work is possible when you know the policies, protect yourself, and stay professional no matter how it turns out.

Read Next: 9 residents on their most challenging interaction with a coworker

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