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Lives of Doctor Wives: August 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tales of a Doctor’s Wife on a Prairie

My journey as a Dr.’s wife, like many of you, has been quite the adventure. Before I met DrH, I never thought I’d be married to a Doctor- let alone living in the middle-of-nowhere in southern Minnesota. Even though I grew up on a farm not that far where we presently live, I vowed when I left for college that I would never go back. Boy has that come to haunt me! None-the-less, living in a rural setting as a Dr.’s wife has most certainly had its sets of challenge and perks.

In July 2010, we packed up our house, dog, and then four month old daughter in Columbus, Ohio and moved 15 hours to a town of 700 people and began to start a new life. It was during that first year of transition that I noticed some of the challenges of being married to a Doctor in small town. While I am finally coming to acceptance of our life on the prairie, it has taken time to adjust. And for anyone transitioning between medical school, residency, or the #itgetsbetter phase in life, there will be some up and downs. Just allow yourself time to adjust. It’s not easy.

Within the first week of moving to rural Minnesota, I noticed our street was becoming a parade route. I would be working in the kitchen and then look out to see people s-l-o-w-l-y driving by our house- perhaps even stopping in front of our house- all wanting to see the house where "DrH" was now living in. And this parade continued in the grocery store, community functions, church, really…everywhere we went. It got old and I felt this pressure to be "happy and okay" when I really wasn’t. I wasn’t happy to be living in the middle of nowhere with no friends- even though both of our families live within 30 miles of the town. Everyone was so happy to have us living there; it was almost too much stress to handle. Today the "parade" has died down, though I still feel people stare at us when we go places. And, we have learned that we need to strategically sit in certain places at functions to avoid patients wanting to talk to DrH about their ailments. In a small town, it does not matter where you go, you will always run into a patient.

I think it’s also funny that everyone assumes I know everything about all of my husband’s patients or who is in the hospital. I do not know how many times I have been stopped and asked questions about patients. Honestly, I have no desire to know this information and YES, HIPAA applies to small-town USA too! Though adds an extra level of challenge to it. I joke I’m usually the last person to find out information, but that’s okay. I am glad that my husband takes HIPAA seriously.

Finding friendships is tough. I’m not going to lie; this has been one of the toughest things to get used to while living in rural Minnesota. Many of the folks who live in the area have lived there their whole lives and tend to congregate with their high school buddies. I’m considered an "outsider" so I’m not really welcome in their circles. Also, I think people are intimidated by me because I am "the Doctor’s wife." It also doesn’t help that people hang out at the local bars on the weekends and we can’t go there because DrH’s patients hang out there. To people in the community, it looks like we are being "stuck up" or "too good" but the reality is we try to avoid some of these situations for the sake of my husband’s mental health. On the bright side, when DrH and I get a chance to get away, we truly "get away" from the area and have a fabulous time. Cost of living is minimal, so we have saved up and have gone on some amazing trips since we moved to the prairie. It’s in those moments we can just be us- not "DrH and his wife. "

A year ago in July, we did one of the best things for ourselves; we moved out to a place in the country. We were living in the small town prior to this and we found it to be isolating and very public. We found a fabulous place with a much bigger home, 15 acres of land, AND a winery/vineyard. This place (for a ridiculously low price) has been our oasis and happy place. Call nights are a little more challenging because of our move, but our world is much happier. It’s worth it! And in a month, we will have an open winery to the public! This move has helped my outlook on living on the prairie and has brought a fresh perspective and a level of acceptance on what it means to be a Dr’s wife. I have accepted that call will part of our life forever and that our kids and I must go on with our plans and not dwell on the "he’s missing it again" mentality. I have also learned that the more I get involved in the community, the more people get to know me as an individual and not just the "Dr’s wife." That also applies to us as a couple, too. Finally, I am excited about our future and all the adventures life will bring on the prairie. Though I never thought I’d be living in rural Minnesota married to a Doctor and now an owner of a vineyard, I couldn’t imagine this journey without my partner-in-crime. I find this more reason to accept and celebrate the challenges and perks of living in rural "middle-of-nowhere" Minnesota.

Krista Kopperud

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Friday, August 14, 2015

To Buy or Not to Buy - That is the Question

I have helped over 100 physician families decide whether to buy or rent. Like any other investment, it is a personal decision. You can make money but you can also lose money. If you don't like to take risks or if you aren't sure where you want to live, then you definitely should rent.

I like to share my personal experience. We bought our first house during medical school and owned it 2 years. We made $40k. We then bought a house during residency and it owned it 3 years and we broke even. We bought a house during fellowship and it owned 2 years. We made $130k. Our first house during practice we owned for 5 years and lost $50k.

We are now in hopefully our final house. We have owned it for 4 years and if we sold today we would make about $200k. My husband is 10 years into practice and we have also bought 2 vacation rentals as investments and have partial ownership in the his practice's buildings. Our vacation rentals have been our favorite investment because our family has built many memories at the beach. Even if the value went down on the vacation rentals, we wouldn't sell because we enjoy them and we make money yearly from the vacation rentals.

I like sharing my story because we have made and lost money in real estate. Overall, we have made money investing in real estate. Personally, I understand real estate much more as an investment than stocks. We have lost much more money in the stock market over the years. I have gotten much more personal enjoyment out of real estate than I have ever gotten out of owning Google or any other stock.

I read one comment that said real estate was the "worst financial mistake" for a doctor. I would always look to see who is giving the advice. Financial advisors typically make money selling stocks and insurance while realtors make money selling real estate. When making a decision to buy or rent, seek out expert opinion and then pray what is the best decision for your family. I am happy to give advice. I have told many people over the years it is better to rent making a decision to buy or rent, seek out expert opinion and then pray what is the best decision for your family. I am happy to give advice. I have told many people over the years it is better to rent.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Survivor Stories: Having a Successful Medical Marriage

After nine years of marriage (and 11 years together) my husband and I recently experienced a first.  Our close friends told us they were divorcing.  We were shocked.  They are the first of our friends to divorce, although I sadly accept that they probably won’t be the last.  While we were not only shocked at the news of the divorce, we were more surprised by the circumstances that ultimately caused the end.  This was a professional couple that worked a lot, but they seemed to have a great connection and healthy relationship during their limited time together.  It made me wonder how anyone stays married to a professional, specifically a physician. 

I started seeking advice from physician wives I know.  Their answers to my questions were so powerful that I expanded my interviewing to other seasoned wives willing to take the time to answer them.  I focused on wives who have been married to their physician husbands for over 30 years.  I felt that 30 years certainly qualified them as an expert on the subject.

Their insight was amazing.  And with their words came examples of hardship, frugality, adaptation and most importantly, independence.  Not only did it show me how possible it is to have a loving, long-term medical marriage, but was also critical in showing me how much MY attitude, effort, and commitment is needed to make this work.  Given our blog post limits, this is just a snippet of the interviews (one response per question).  The respondents are all anonymous so their names have been changed.

TRAINING What part of training was the most challenging? How did you get through it?

Linda – “Internship was definitely the hardest.  At the time my husband was an intern we had 4 children one being a newborn.  He worked probably 120 hours a week (no kidding!).  I just learned that we had to go on with life with or without him there.  We ate dinner at 6:00 and if he was there great, if not he ate when he got home.  We had to keep a schedule for the kids’ sake.”

SUPPORT SYSTEM What is and was your support system for challenging times? How did you keep your sanity?

Karen –“ I would say our biggest support system besides each other would have to be our friends that we were close with in the Emergency Residency program.   Our family on both sides was out of state and too far away to see much more than on holidays and summers.   So, our support system became our fellow residency friends who were going through the same things that we were at the same time.  We soon learned that they were our new “FAMILY” who we could count on and go to in an emergency.  About 3 weeks after my husband started his new residency, I had a miscarriage, and needed to go to the hospital.   Since we had to find someone to care for our 10 month old daughter quickly, we called our new friends, a couple we had just met in the residency program a few days before and asked if they could help us out with her while we went to the hospital.   They were our angels and came to our rescue that day in a time of crisis and need, which was such a gift for us and our daughter.  We realized that day our new friends were our  "new family” and to this day our connection to these special people is a priceless treasure.”

SACRIFICE What personal sacrifice have you made for your husband's career? Has this created problems in your marriage? How did you overcome any resentment?

Susan – “Well, me not having a career.  When my husband and I got married I kinda knew what I was getting into, although we didn’t have a lot of physicians in the family our next door neighbor was a surgeon and I noticed he was never home.  So I kinda knew it was going to be a rigorous schedule for my husband.  And we talked about that and I made the decision, we made the decision together, that I was able to stay home with the kids.  And that was definitely a gift.   It didn’t create any problems.  I accepted it, and had been in fashion merchandizing which did not have great pay, and the next level would have meant travelling and doing buying and I didn’t see that fitting into the equation.  I really wanted to have two or three children and that’s a big commitment.  Somebody’s got to be there and frankly, now that I hear the stories after they had grown up, apparently I missed a few things along the way – even though I was home full time.  So I can’t imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t around.”

FAMILY PLANNING  When did you join your husband on your journey? What is the best time to start a family? What types of things did you do to keep consistency in your family life? 

Mary - “We had our first child when he was PGY3 and second child when he was moonlighting while starting a new practice.  I have to give my husband the credit for keeping as much consistency as possible.  He insisted on "family dinners" every night - whether in or out.  I, on the other hand insisted on date nights every weekend!  Still do!  I needed something to look forward to by the end of the week.  We employed local teens to babysit when we moved 30 minutes from my parents.  We also took weekend trips alone - something I usually planned --again, something I needed to keep sane.”

MARRIAGE Did you know what you were getting into marrying a physician? How do you nurture your marriage?

Nancy – “My best friend's mother was married to a busy general surgeon.  She raised six children almost on her own.  She was a marvelous role model - a woman of grace and elegance, who sat me down six weeks before my wedding and told me how he wouldn't be around for most of the important things in our lives - and that if I couldn't handle that without making him FEEL BADLY about it, I shouldn't dare walk down that aisle. She told me he would already feel badly enough about everything he would miss, and that if I showered resentment on top of that, we wouldn't have a good marriage.  She was right, and I recount that story to every potential physician partner I've ever met.”

FAITH Did faith have an impact on your success as a married couple? 

Patricia – “We are not involved in organized religion, but we share the same values and desire to be decent people. We believe in God, that people are more than just themselves and part of something bigger, and we believe things happen for a reason that has a greater purpose. Our faith is something we have in common and one of the reasons we have remained in love. In other words, we admire each other’s values even though we know we are imperfect and make mistakes. We’ve never doubted that we are well-intended and that helps us approach challenges between us.”

FINANCIAL What's one piece of financial advice you can give to younger medical couples? 

Patricia – “ My advice is to realize that money represents different things to different people and when you’re dealing with money you aren’t really talking about dollars but people’s fears and dreams. Know what money means to your spouse… what it represents (security, self-worth, social acceptance, freedom, etc) and then work from there. Without understanding this, the potential for conflicts over finances unnecessarily increases.”

FUTURE OF MEDICINE What are the new challenges for today’s physicians? Did you or would you encourage your children to pursue medicine?

Linda – “I don’t think today’s physicians are treated the same way as they were years ago.  There are to many insurance worries for a physician NOT to order to many tests because there is always the fear of being sued.  There seem to be less physicians so their work load is greater.  Would my husband do it again…maybe.  None of our 5 children went into medicine because I think they saw how hard it was on their dad, the hours, the time away from family, they see the money is nice but not the hard work and pressure it took to get to this point.”

BENEFITS At what point did you feel like it had all came together? What is the best part of being a physician’s wife?

Karen - “For me, being a physician’s wife, has been and is an honor, with many more positives than negatives.    It is a mixed bag with many sacrifices and frustrations, but also many blessings.  One of the most sobering parts of being a physician’s wife over the years is the awareness that because my husband’s chair is empty at our family dinner table, somebody in the ER just might be getting a second chance at life because my husband is there running a CPR code, saving a heart attack patient from dying far too young, or running the trauma room on a young accident victim.  There is a certain joy in knowing that because our Daddy/husband is gone from our dinner table tonight and is working, that somebody else’s Daddy will be alive and will return to his family’s dinner table next week.”

ADVICE Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything along the way? What lessons of life have you learned?

Mary – “Wow, a tough one.  Everyone has to live their life the way that's most comfortable for them -duh!.  For us it was being a couple, having a family, and just being the true people we are.  No faking it.  You are who you are.  Medicine is not a glamorous job, but with it comes respect and admiration from others.  Don't abuse that.  Make your marriage come first - you won't be sorry.  A lot of women I know put their children first above all else, and end up with lousy marriages.  I never felt that way.  With our kids out and on their own, you only have each other - keep up the fun, the love and the sex!”

If you would like to read more, I have all of the responses compiled into an eBook that is available for free on my website (see below).

 Amber Stueven is wife to an EM physician and mom to two little girls.  She has a website for physician spouses at www.PhysicianSpouses.com *not affiliated with LDW.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

"You know you're married to a Medical Student when..."

Here we are! Gearing up for the second year of medical school. Where did the first year go? How did we survive it? No, really. HOW did we survive it?! At least this time around we feel settled and refreshed after (our last ever!) summer. SDrH enjoyed his summer research program and we got to spend almost every evening and weekend together...

BUT (Because you knew there was a "but" coming.)

But I'm already working on a mental list in my head. You know, the list in which you keep all the things that you plan to do when medical school causes your life (social, marital, and otherwise) to come to a screeching halt. So far, painting the trim in the bathroom and cleaning out my closet are in the lead. Fun! But you know what? This is not unique to me. I'm not the only gal #marriedtomedicine. There are 4,000+ women on the Lives of Doctors' Wives Facebook page who are right there with me or have been there before. And these women knooooow. And I know that they know that they know. So I recently posed the following question: "You know you're married to a medical student when..." And boy, did they deliver. Some are hilarious, some are a little sad, but the best part...they get it. Because #wecandohardthings.

"You know you're married to a medical student when..."

You start off your ER visits by explaining that your husband is a medical student and then apologizing.

Your toddlers start to wave and say, "Bye!" every time they see their dad.

You refuse to look at their computer screen for fear of seeing one of those really gross, disgusting pictures.

You have date night in the library.

Bacteria is suddenly much more terrifying and you spend a fortune on hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes. 

You spend part of your "honeymoon" at residency interviews.

You find a lump in your armpit and immediately assume you have cancer until he does an exam and reassures you that it's just a lymph node. 

Your home smells like formaldehyde.

You break your toe on their massive copy of Robbins (true, painful story).

They fall asleep prepping for Step 1 at the kitchen table...at 4:00pm on a Saturday.

You quiz your husband on pharmacology between labor contractions.

You have the feeling of financial security twice a year...on loan disbursement days. 

You get called the "best wife ever" by SDrH's classmates because you manage to go into labor the day of the big exam, but labor on your own at home for about 12 hours before he can actually get home. 

When your main expenditure is coffee.

With every new class, you get diagnosed with very rare medical diseases that only happen in third world counties that you've never been to. 

Every prayer by your kids includes, "Please bless Daddy that he will do well on his test."

You find a trunk full of bones on loan from the department of anatomy in your living room.

You think you are holding hands with your husband only to realize that he's actually studying the anatomy of your hands. 

When you become the practice patient. 

When SDrH expresses frustration over not being able to watch television in double speed like his recorded lectures.

Your 2 year old waves while dad drives away and says, "Bye Daddy! Thanks for coming to my house!"

When quizzing your husband, you find that you can't pronounce half of the words on the flashcard.

You have to institute a rule that all pictures from lectures are not allowed to be shown at the dinner table.

You get no sympathy when you're sick.

You randomly catch SDrH eyeing the inside of your arm and saying, "I would go in right...there!" as he pretends his finger is a needle and pokes your arm vein with it.

You don't need weapons for intruders because you have massive medical books. 

Your toddler wants a working Otoscope for Christmas. 

"Friday" is actually any day that he finishes a big test.

You're not allowed to talk about what you'll do when Step 1 is over because that means it's coming up too fast. The night before the exam, even YOU can't sleep.

You give up your walk-in closet to be his office so you can actually see him during the day.

Moving home was more economical than paying rent for an apartment you'd never get a chance to 

He's worried you have a tumor every time you have a headache. 

You attend more weddings and social events alone than as a couple. Eventually people stop asking where he is.

You learn to make Thanksgiving dinner from start to finish all by yourself because you can't get home to be with family...all because finals start the following week.

You actually get questions right when helping him study.

Your SDrH sends you and your sick 3 year old to the ER with 4 INDEX CARDS fully filled out on both sides with detailed progression, symptoms, and a "diagnosis" to give the doctor.

You laugh hysterically when friends/family ask if you'll be available more than a week in advance. 

You run into an old acquaintance you haven't seen in a while, tell them your hubby is a med student, and then dread the following question..."So, when is he going to be DONE?" Because then you have to explain match, residency, etc. and see the look of disbelief and/or pity in their eyes.

You splurge on Taco Bell for special occasions.

You go to bed and find your husband sitting on the bed with a skeleton that he has named "Yourick".

And last but not least, my own personal favorite...  

When you're about to *ahem* "get lucky" and he suddenly stops and says, "You have a lump in your right breast, put your hand behind your head," and proceeds to do a FULL BREAST EXAM in which he calmly (and correctly) diagnoses a benign fibroadenoma. Then he says, "Now where were we?" as I dissolve into tears thinking I have cancer.


Told ya. These gals knooooow. There's strength in numbers, ladies. Here's hoping this year is kind to you and your med student! 

visit my personal blog at thehappyredhead.com