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Lives of Doctor Wives: Reader Question about General Surgery Residency

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reader Question about General Surgery Residency

Here is a question from reader Allison:

My husband is a MS1 and is thinking about all of his different options in terms of specialties. I was wondering what the General Surgery residency is like? What are most days like? How much time off each week (one day, no days, etc)? Is it crazy hard to do with a family? What makes it easier/harder than other specialties? We have a two year old and she obviously plays into his decision, and I thought this would be the best place to find out! Thank you so much!Allison

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Blogger Bea said...

I'll comment since DH is a PGY3 (almost 4! wow!) in General Surgery.

Honestly, I think general surgery is one of the hardest residencies out there. I don't want to offend anyone else, but I think most of our readers would agree with me. I have spouse friends in all sorts of residencies, and when we swap our "war stories," DH and mine seem pretty bad. DH easily works 90 hour weeks and that has not changed as he rises up the ranks. In fact it has gotten worse. His call schedule was horrible in PGY1. I got used to it and I'm generally a very independent person so it worked OK for us. Then PGY2 was better. PGY3 has probably been the easiest call schedule wise, but that's just call. He was on call about 3 times a month. In general surgery, call means overnight call no matter what. Other than call, he always leaves the house at 5am and never gets home earlier than 6pm. Getting home at 6pm is a treat. It's usually around 7 or 8pm.

Now that he's going into PGY4, he'll have call about 2 times a week and always on a weekend.

We have 2 kids, ages 2 years old and 2 months old. I also work full time. I'm in charge of drop offs and pick ups. Now that we have a nanny, she comments on how much DH works. In the 3 months she has worked for us, she has actually seen DH about 4 or 5 times.

That's the rough truth. I should also add that DH works in a high volume trauma hospital, so maybe that's part of it. We are in a busy city too.

Despite all this, I really DO have a happy marriage and I think it's all manageable. It's all about attitude and willingness to do this for the bigger picture.

Feel free to ask me more questions personally via email! I'm happy to write as many details as you'd like.

June 16, 2011 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Brad started out in general surgery before switching to ENT part way through PGY2. And it was hard. Really hard. Or maybe ENT is just easy and Gen Surgery is normal? Or maybe it is the program? He works about 12-13 hour days normally. Of course, there have been days surgery has gone until 11 pm... And his call as ENT is great because it is home call and he rarely has to go in, especially as a senior resident. When he was General Surgery, if he was on call, he was gone, even though it WAS home call.

Some surgical specialties are easier than others. I really think ortho wives have it tough too. I don't know because we never did it, but I suspect it is just as hard as general if not harder. Of course, SO MUCH depends on the program too. Some ENT programs have a lot of out rotations so they end up being gone for months. But, most importantly, if it is want he loves and wants to do, you can get though anything.

June 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I used to not be a very independent person especially when we first moved to do his residency in a state/town where we knew nobody. I obviously not knowing anyone wanted him around all the time and be my friend through this transition into a new city. But that’s just not the case with his Ortho residency. He was actually on call the first year for a solid 3 months, every other day. And maybe some residency allow more freedom than others, but coming from a Ortho resident fiancé going on our 5th year not including next year making it our 6th year away from friends and family and a completely new city. I just think it’s a lifestyle that no one else will know or appreciate except those who have to endure and go through it. I’d like to say maybe you DrH can find a specialty with more freedom, but it’s just the reality of getting used to being on your own and becoming independent. Sure I would LOVE more and more time with my Fiancé as he goes through his years but the reality is that I've had to become independent and used to this lifestyle. It’s never really going to change very drastically. After residency maybe if you take a job in a smaller city or town, the demands may be less. But I just think it takes a strong women and to appreciate the times/days you actually do get to spend with your husband. For example, I know going into his fellowship year next year, that every single Friday night he will be at a HS sports event followed by clinic every Saturday. Not including his regular work week that goes long into the nights and call schedule. Also the fact that he has to leave for over 2 weeks for spring training in another state. I just think this is your life, it may get a little better but you need to just be happy where you’re at and realize it maybe won’t get too much better. The scary part for us is that we don’t have children yet and once he starts his fellowship or possibly his first year out, we will be trying. So I can only imagine this road is only going to get more difficult and challenging but you just have to keep in mind the love you have and try to enjoy it!!

June 16, 2011 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger TheFamousStacie said...

I will be totally honest:

My Dr. H did surgery for Internship year and it was AWFUL. We have 3 children and it was the only year I thought we might not make it.

On the other hand, I believe you have to be supportive no matter what he chooses.

If he chooses GS you must keep a happy face in front of your little one, and she probably won't know the difference.

June 16, 2011 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger JumpingJane said...

My DF is finishing up his PGY3 of gen surg this month. I'm a fairly independent person and don't mind the heavy schedule, but I have told my fiance that we aren't having children until residency is over and we can move closer to family. I won't do it during residency because I will need more help then would be possible. You don't exactly get to choose where you go for residency and we ended up halfway across the country from my parents, all the way across from his. DF's residency hasn't been as bad as some of the other gen surg residencies I have heard about, but there are rotations where even post call he still doesn't get home until the evening. He is lucky if he gets four days off a month (not going to happen this month). He is on call every third or fourth night. Depending on the year and the chief that is making the schedule, it sometimes isn't put up until a few days before the month starts and its very hard to make plans. In fact, there is rarely ever definite plans. We had some tonight. They didn't happen. Its a rough residency and even from what I hear, after residency and not one i would want if I could choose.

June 16, 2011 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Emily Clark said...

A big item to take into consideration when looking at any residency is the size of the program...more residents per year will inevitably make the workload spread across more people. Thus less call, less overall stress, and "sometimes" home at a reasonable hour! Good luck and God bless!

June 16, 2011 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Cheri said...

You need to look at quality of life not only during residency but also after residency. From what I have heard, if you go into general surgery, it becomes your life. Your husband should be happy in what he does but if he wants a family life, he may consider other specialties.

June 16, 2011 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Amy's Blog! said...

Yikes, my bf started his first day of PGY1 today and we saw his schedule for the first 2 months and I am already scared. Thank goodness are staying here for his prelim year where my fam and friends are before we make the move for PGY2-4 so I can get use to the hours. These post make me a little scared!

June 17, 2011 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

I agree with the others that have commented. In general surgical specialties, any of them can be some of the more taxing residencies. My husband will be a PGY2 in a week so I don't have as much experience as some of the others, but we made it through. I think What pretty much everyone has said and I will echo is you have to be independent. If you wait for your husband to take care of something or be your life, you are going to be miserable. You have to create your own support system outside of him. It is hard, but I think so much of it depends on both of you and your personalities. We have a little guy that is just shy of 2. Sometimes my husband won't see him for a couple weeks except for peeking in on him sleeping. I don't want to totally discourage you, we have adjusted to the hectic pace. He typically gets 4 days off a month, but sometimes that slides a little. Though hours are supposed to be capped at 80, if they are unplanned hours (like you stay late or something) they may still be a violation, but it seems like no one cares as long as they are unplanned. His hours have ranged from 80 to around 110 on the worst of weeks he has had. That being said, my husband love surgery. It is easier to be alone so much when he is happy when he gets home. I wouldn't worry too much about it at this point honestly. Most med students change their mind half a dozen times while in medical school as to what they are going into. Rotations in later years will help you get a better taste of what it is like and if he actually even likes it.

June 17, 2011 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Sarah Weiss said...

It's hard, they work a ton, each program is different and each rotation is different but at the end of the day they may get 1 day off a week. By day off I mean a day where they don't go into the hospital but they still have reading to do, dictation to catch up on, preparation to be done for upcoming presentations, etc. For my husband it's his calling, it has to be to get through it. We have a 3 yr old and a 10 mth old and my husband is a PGY2 but did a prelim year so this is our 3rd year in the program. We've had our two children during training but I've heard from a fellow wife it was much easier having the kids in med school when the husbands have more time and flexibility. Also but the time they got to residency the kids were out of the lack of sleep age and could be more helpful. Time at home with the family is really limited though and as the wife you won't know when he's getting home at night and if he'll be able to help with anything. I've heard many residents say they had hoped they wouldn't fall in love with surgery because it's very draining on the dr and fam. That being said, I'm happy, I've created a life for myself and my kids with friends in our community. You just have to be strong and independent and yet find a way to have your hubby fall back into the fold of the family when he is around.

June 24, 2011 at 2:29 AM  
Blogger R said...

From what I have seen, most all the surgery residencies are the most busy and tiring. 4:30 am wakeup and not home til 7 pm (or later). And then when they are home they are so tired that they're not much company. Plus, did I mention you still have to study in residency? Cause you are still getting "pimped" aka quizzed by higher up doctors, etc. So there goes your night.
But, you can do it if you are willing to be independent and have a good support system. Just don't expect him to take out the trash . . . cause he won't be home.

June 30, 2011 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger Timani said...

As a MS1 he still has time to figure out what he likes and what he doesn't. It's good for you to find out about residencies, but at the same time I suggest not stressing about it yet. When the time comes for him to start zoning in on a decision or decisions...you'll have a better idea if it is an acceptable fit for him and your family. Many students change their mind! In fact, many residents change their mind and switch programs. Honestly with surgery I think it depends on the program. My husband wasn't "pimped" it wasn't their style and they were scheduled less than 80 hrs a week and had a firm policy in place and adhered to it. Some surgery programs don't.

As for kids...you can do any residency with kids. We have 8 children and yes, I birthed them all and he fathered them all. We had 5 when my husband started med school and added 3 more during. Kids are resillent, with dad gone all the time, it didn't bother them...their normal. It all hinges on how the mom handles it.

July 2, 2011 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Hi, just found this blog. My husband is a Gen Surg pgy4.

To be honest, I think if you have any doubts you shouldn't do it. I was very positive about being able to handle being married to a gen surg resident. I stay home and we now have 2 kids and our program is better than a lot of them out there (or so my husband is always trying to tell me.)

His schedule really depends on his rotation. On call every other day if it's home call, every 4th day other times (that means a 30 hr shift), 12-16 hour days, USUALLY 1 day off a week but sometimes that day off is when he's finishing the morning of or "just rounding" which can turn into 6 hrs by itself.

I just went to lunch with the other resident wives in our program. We started swapping stories about having babies -- since you can't really predict when you'll go into labor it's really hard to figure out how to get time off. One wife didn't have a way home from the hospital so her friend's husband had to take a day off his job to watch the other kids (they didn't have a big enough car) so that her friend could pick her up and help her get home from the hospital, another wife hired a dual and was glad she did because her husband had been up so many hours, he fell asleep while she was laboring, I saw an attending shortly after giving birth to my 2nd child and thanked him for letting my husband leave for a couple of hours to take me home from the hospital.

Not to diminish the difficulty of any of the other specialties, but I think there are a couple of reasons that gen surg is usually crazier than the others: #1 tradition. Even if your husband has worked some crazy hours the attending did more in their day. As rules change for work hoiurs, they are constantly tweaking schedules but there are lots of times my husband is still going over work hours because something isn't really working and needs to be tweaked. #2 gen surg especially when they're on trauma call is really first call for everything. ER is shift work and ortho isn't always emergency - many times they can operated the next day. Gen surg can't wait and can be pretty unpredictable.

I think the unpredictability factor has been the hardest thing for me. If I know my husband isn't going to be home fro 30 hours and then is going to need to sleep for 6 or more, I can mentally wrap my head around that. But, when we have plans (an overdue date or family outting or are having guests or family over) and my husband ends up getting stuck in surgery or the trauma bay gets crazy or patients come in right at the time he's supposed to get off so he needs to take them, it gets pretty hard/frustrating. I try to never plan on him so that when he's there it's exciting but when things happen I am not too disappointed. If you can be that way and not be resentful or upset when plans fall through and rely on people other than your husband for when you really need it, then go for it. I do have to say that my husband LOVES surgery. He doesn't come home ornery, only tired. He loves what he does and I think that helps him get through it.

October 8, 2011 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Here are some of my thoughts on being married to a surgery resident.


July 25, 2014 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

My husband is a 4th year surgical resident. He always wanted to be a surgeon, but the rotations 3rd year of medical school really showed us that it was meant to be. He would come home so happy after each day on surgery and so unhappy after each of the other specialties he tried out. If your guy decides to do a general surgery residency, plan on 5 - 6 years of being as independent as possible, and you will win all the awards for having the most difficult schedule of any medical spouse, and he will be the rock star of the hospital with all of the pressure and prestige that goes with it.

If he has the luxury of choosing a program, you will be better off if the program is bigger thus increasing your chances of finding a friend you really like among the other wives. In my experience, few surgical residents have children so again your chances of finding a relatable friend increase with program size. Best of luck and lots of patience to you!

July 26, 2014 at 12:16 AM  

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