Intimate Relationships in Medical School: How to Make Them Work


Michael F. Myers

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    To all medical students—today, yesterday, and tomorrow.


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    Many medical students and house staff suffer from stressed-out couple relationships. Receiving little or no help, they tough it out or eventually break up.

    Until now, there has been no practical guide, no book specifically designed for medical trainees to strengthen couple relationships and ameliorate disenchantment and disengagement. Using interesting case vignettes and helpful suggestions, Michael Myers, M.D., provides practical information that, if you follow, will strengthen your relationship.

    Writing in a reader-friendly style, Dr. Myers assures you that you are not alone in relationship problems, help is readily available, and a hopeful future possible. He conveys the encouraging message that some faculty do care about your personal life, not just how well you master pedagogic materials.

    Dr. Myers, a psychiatrist with more than 25 years of experience helping medical trainees with relationship issues, is an internationally known clinician and instructor. He and Leah Dickstein, M.D., associate dean of student affairs at the University of Louisville, offer an annual course—Treating Medical Students and Physicians—that sells out each year at the meetings of the American Psychiatric Association.

    Clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and director of the Marital Therapy Clinic at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, Dr. Myers is deeply involved in guiding medical trainees and practicing physicians through the vicissitudes of their personal and professional lives. A successful and well-respected author, his book Doctors' Marriages: A Look at the Problems and Their Solutions (1988, 1994) targets physicians and their spouses; How's Your Marriage? A Book for Men and Women (1998) is geared for the general public. Both have received rave reviews.

    Whether or not you're currently involved in an intimate relationship, you will benefit from reading this book and implementing its precepts. Maintaining a viable relationship with an intimate other will be the best buffer you can have against stress and emotional impairment. This book represents the best in primary (i.e., avoiding potential relationship problems) and secondary (i.e., fixing problems before they become deeply entrenched) prevention. I guarantee that you'll learn a lot and will take an important step toward ensuring your present and future well-being.

    Robert HolmanCoombs, Professor of Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA School of Medicine, Series Editor


    I wish to thank Plenum Press for permission to adapt material for this book from a chapter on medical student and resident physician marriages in my book Doctors' Marriages: A Look at the Problems and Their Solutions (1988, 1994) and American Psychiatric Press, Inc., for permission to adapt from my book How's Your Marriage? A Book for Men and Women (1998). I want to thank Dr. Robert Coombs for inviting me to write this book. He has believed in its purpose since the beginning. Thanks as well to the many medical students at UCLA who reviewed the prospectus and supported the need for a book on intimate relationships. I would also like to thank the hundreds of medical students, spouses, partners, and children who have been my patients. You have entrusted me with your care, your very personal struggles, heartaches, and joy. This is your book. Finally, I want to thank my wife Joice, my daughter Briana, and my son Zachary. I could never write a book on intimate relationships without their love. And much more.


    If you are married or in a committed intimate relationship, you will find this book helpful. I have been listening to the concerns of medical students about their relationships for over 25 years, as a psychiatrist with a subspecialty in physician health, as a director of medical student education, and as a clinical teacher. Although, I myself was not married or in a serious relationship while a medical student, I became both a husband and father during my residency. I haven't forgotten the many stressful days and sleepless nights when things were not going well at home. Nor have I forgotten the agonizing attempts to reconcile my commitment to my patients and studies and my wish to have a life outside of medicine with my wife, children, and friends. I longed for something to read about this dilemma (but there wasn't much back then) or someone to talk to about this. I thought that I was the only one having trouble coping, and I simply felt inadequate and frightened. After my residency and when I began to work in the field, I quickly realized that I was not alone and that many medical students and residents in committed relationships were struggling with the same issues.

    By now, you have probably experienced (or have been told that you might experience) some stress simply because you are a medical student. Here are some of the more common sources: adjusting to medical training and deciding that you are in the right field; coping with the volume of material to be learned; grappling with disease and dying patients; confronting ethical dilemmas in health care; balancing academic demands with those of your family; delaying gratification of many of your personal needs; not getting enough time to keep up your interests; for some of you, accepting a decline in academic standing, failing one or more courses, writing supplemental examinations, or repeating a year of medical school; and coping with illness in yourself or a loved one, including family tragedies. All of these can have an impact on intimacy in your life.

    This book is for you and your spouse or partner to read. I have tried to discuss the more common sources of conflict in relationships during medical training. I hope that your reading about these matters will give you more information and insight into your struggles and those of your partner. Pay attention to the suggestions that I make about communication, because if you can master some of these techniques and strategies, you will be able to discuss many tough issues much more easily than before. That is key. With good communication skills and an enduring wish to understand and to be close again, you will be proud of your ability to confront and resolve misunderstandings.

    I have used lots of case examples throughout this book. They are composites from my practice. I have deliberately disguised details to protect my patients' identities and to preserve their confidentiality and dignity. I hope that you find their stories helpful.

  • Suggested Readings

    Beck, A. (1988). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New York: Harper & Row.
    Gabbard, G. O., & Menninger, R. W. (1988). Medical marriages. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
    Myers, M. F. (1994). Doctors' marriages: A look at the problems and their solutions (
    2nd ed.
    ). New York: Plenum.
    Myers, M. F. (1998). How's your marriage? A book for men and women. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
    Peterkin, A. D. (1998). Staying human during residency training (
    2nd ed.
    ). Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.
    Sotile, W. M., & Sotile, M. O. (2000). The medical marriage. (
    2nd ed.
    ). Chicago: American Medical Association.
    Tannen, D. (1990). You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: William Morrow.

    About the Author

    Michael F. Myers, M.D., is Director of the Marital Therapy Clinic at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Myers has written three previous books, Doctors' Marriages: A Look at the Problems and Their Solutions; Men and Divorce; and How's Your Marriage? A Book for Men and Women and has coedited with Larry Goldman, M.D., and Leah Dickstein, M.D., The Handbook of Physician Health. He has also written several scientific publications and book chapters and produced educational videotapes on marriage, divorce, medical student and physician stress, abuse of residents, sexual assault of women and men, AIDS, the stigma of psychiatric illness, boundary issues in the physician-patient relationship, gender issues in health care and delivery, and physician suicide and its impact on loved ones. Active in many medical associations, Dr. Myers currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association and is President-Elect of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

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