Physician Health

In a dual-physician household? 5 ways to handle the challenges

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

Dual-physician households are on the rise. While enjoying mission-driven companionship, doctors in these households face unique challenges at all stages of their careers, but particularly during their early careers. Now two physicians discuss various institutional and individual-level strategies to anticipate and mitigate strains that come with being part of two-physician households.

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Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face. By focusing on factors causing burnout at the system-level, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction.

A 2019 study found that nearly half of all physicians are married to doctors. And while dual-physician couples are more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than nondoctor couples, they still face unique career and family experiences, says a JAMA Viewpoint essay co-written by Lauren Ferrante, MD, and Lona Mody, MD. Dr. Ferrante is a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician at the Yale School of Medicine, and Dr. Mody is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

Managing two physician schedules at home often requires a proactive coordination of work, professional meetings, on-call, school and activity schedules, the authors explained. Here are the five individual-level strategies they advised considering when dealing with the strains of a two-physician household.

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Strive to have the best resume. By excelling at work, you will have more flexibility to land the training position or practice setting that best fits your career aspirations and life goals.

Balance location and program. What is more important: a specific program or a geographic location? Dual-physician couples should “assess whether being accepted into a specific program or going to a specific geographic location is more important,” Drs. Ferrante and Mody wrote. During the application process, try to cast a wide net and keep your options open.

Seek peer support. Dual-physician households have to rely on outside help. When looking for reliable child care and professional assistance with domestic tasks, your friends and colleagues can help. If you are new to a city, ask peers about cultural and recreational activities outside of work. Discussing these priorities should no longer be considered taboo.

It is also helpful to identify role models in similar situations who can help you navigate your journey as a dual-physician household, and you can serve as peer mentors to those going through similar challenges.

Be open and honest as you balance competing demands. Physicians should maintain open communication regarding their career aspirations, goals, philosophies and plans for raising a family. This includes discussing daily stressors, and short- and long-term goals that are important to each of you. It may be necessary to seek child care for scheduling “alone time” together, which is often not prioritized when there are so many competing demands.

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Coordinate your schedules. As a dual-physician couple, it is important to be proactive when coordinating work, on-call, childcare, professional meetings and holiday schedules. “Sharing a path in medicine promotes mutual understanding of work-related pressures,” wrote the authors, adding that it also allows “partners to seek counsel from each other.”

The essay also covers solutions at the system and institutional level to achieve work-life balance in a dual-physician relationship. Strategies at the system and institutional level include:

Couples match during training years (allows two applicants to link their rank order lists).

  • Tandem recruiting during faculty years—if you pursue academia—in which both hiring units or departments synchronously engage in the recruiting process so that both partners feel equally valued.
  • Parental leave policies for both parents.
  • On-site childcare with extended hours and a subsidized program to care for sick children.
  • Financial advising resources.

Learn more from the AMA about managing work-life balance and consider getting involved in the AMA Women Physicians Section.