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Understanding the Medical Marriage: Physicians and Their Partners Share Strategies for Success

Perlman, Rachel L. MD; Ross, Paula T. PhD; Lypson, Monica L. MD, MHPE

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000449
Research Reports

Purpose: Physicians and their spouses experience challenges to their relationships, some of which are shared with the general population and others of which are unique to the field of medicine. Trainees and junior faculty members remain curious about how they will balance their careers alongside marriage and family obligations. This study explores the challenges and strengths of dual- and single-physician relationships.

Method: In 2009, using appreciative inquiry as a theoretical framework, the authors conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 25 individuals: 12 women and 13 men; 10 from dual-physician and 15 from single-physician relationships. A phenomenological analytic approach was used to arrive at the final themes.

Results: Four themes emerged during the interviews: “We rely on mutual support in our relationships,” “We recognize the important roles of each family member,” “We have shared values,” and “We acknowledge the benefit of being a physician to our relationships.”

Conclusions: These findings illustrate that physicians identify strategies to navigate the difficult aspects of their lives. Learn ing from others’ best practices can assist in managing personal relationships and work–life balance. These data can also be useful when counseling physicians on successful relationship strategies. As systems are developed that improve wellness and focus on role models for work–life balance, it will be important for this topic to be integrated into formal curricula across the continuum of medical education.

Dr. Perlman is chief of nephrology, Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Ross is project manager, Office of Medical Student Education, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Dr. Lypson is professor, Departments of Internal Medicine and Learning Health Sciences, assistant dean for graduate medical education, University of Michigan Medical School, and staff physician, Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Funding/Support: The University of Michigan, Department of Internal Medicine Faculty Discretionary Fund supported this project.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: All aspects of this study received approval from the University of Michigan Medical School institutional review board.

Previous presentations: These data have been previously presented at the 2013 University of Michigan Medical School, Medical Education Day, the Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Grand Rounds, and Lakeland Care Grand Rounds in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Lypson, 2600 Green Rd., #150B, SPC 5791, Ann Arbor, MI 48105; telephone: (734) 764-3186; fax: (734) 763-5889; e-mail:

© 2015 by the Association of American Medical Colleges