Medical Resident Wellness

How to make a long-distance relationship work in physician residency

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

How to make a long-distance relationship work in physician residency

May 21, 2024

The demands of training in a physician residency program are abundant. Balancing them with a long-distance relationship is a difficult—but not impossible—task.

Emma Vomer, DO, met her husband Rock during medical school. The couple spent a pair of years together at the family medicine residency program at Eastern Virginia Medical School before Rock graduated and pursued a sports medicine fellowship at Duke University. The following year, as her husband moved to practice, Dr.  Vomer took a sports medicine fellowship position at the Medical University of South Carolina. 

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Having worked and lived hundreds of miles apart for two years, Dr. Vomer, an AMA member, offered a few tips to residents and fellows trying to navigate a long-distance relationship.

With Rock—also an AMA member—setting up a practice in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Emma completing a fellowship in Columbia, South Carolina, the Vomers are now about a four-hour drive apart. Because of that, there’s not much time to connect. Still, Dr. Vomer has found ways to show her husband she cares, even at a distance.

“I would recommend that residents in long-distance relationships find ways to prioritize your partner that aren’t physically seeing each other,” Dr. Vomer said. “You want to make sure they feel supported. Even the little things. I like to order my husband dinner. If I know he’s had a long day, it’s something I can do from afar to show support.”

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Residency takes a lot of time. In some instances, with one’s bandwidth limited, having an out-of-town partner isn’t always a bad thing, Dr. Vomer said.

“With residency—and particularly with fellowship—I think there was unfortunately some benefit to us being apart because it is so busy,” Dr. Vomer said. “You don't feel as guilty about missing out on time with your partner.”

Creating time with your partner requires some advanced planning. Dr. Vomer recommended residents work with their program director at the start of each year to get time off, if possible.

“In most programs, scheduling is the easiest at the beginning of the academic year],” she said. “We’d look at our rotation schedules together to try to identify when we had blocks that would allow us to ask for time off.”

“It’s good to have that time off well in advance,” Dr. Vomer said. “It gives you something to look forward to when it’s a date written down on a calendar.”

As their schedules have gotten increasingly busy, the Vomers are on the phone “very frequently,” Dr. Vomer said. Others may also want to consider Facetime and Zoom as a means of keeping in touch, she added. 

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Illustration of resident looking at a diagnostic image

The Vomers have had the fortune of staying within driving distance throughout their time apart. That isn’t always the case. To get more time with your partner, Dr.  Vomer advised residents to work with their program directors.

“If you’re geographically very far apart, finding sustained periods of time where you can be with your partner is harder,” she said. “But you aren’t the first resident to go through this, and your program director probably is going to help you get creative. That might mean picking electives in a way you might be able to line that up a two-week block vacation instead of just one week.”

“Your program directors are going to try to support you. They want to see you thrive in residency.”

In the end, the time you spend away from your partner is finite. Dr. Vomer is down to her final few months of fellowship, and she has found working toward a future with her partner to be a major motivator and source of comfort.

“Training can go by really fast,” she said. “Initially, I tried not to focus on the number of days until we would be together, and then all of the sudden we were at the back half of the year. Six months left. Then two months left. Now we’re down to a month or so and I’m starting to plan my move to Wilmington. We’re getting ready to put our roots down together, and that is something we are both really looking forward to.”