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When doctors marry doctors

 

Given the extreme time pressures on most people in medicine, you might think doctors might think twice about getting hitched to someone with exactly the same constraints. Not so: a research report published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that around 17% of male doctors have a spouse who is also a doctor, and whopping 31% of female doctors are married to a doctor. A report published last year put the figures even higher, with around 26% of doctors married to another doctor, and 41% of female doctors with a medical spouse.

How do these inter-medical partnerships fare? Perhaps less well for the female half of the equation. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine flagged some striking differences in the working hours of the dual-doctor couple: before the arrival of children, the male spouse worked an average of 57 hours per week, compared with 52.4 hours for the female spouse. But after children, the number of hours women worked dropped to 41.5 hours, and this did not rise again with time. In contrast, men’s hours dropped only slightly and remained steady through the child-rearing years.

“Even within dual-physician couples, societal expectations for women to reduce hours worked to care for children still hold,” the authors note.

Female doctors married to a doctor were more likely than both male doctors and those of either gender in non-dual-doctor households to report having to arrange their work schedules to care for children. They were also less likely to report achieving career goals. And they were more likely to report limitations to their careers for family than their doctor husbands or their colleagues not married to a doctor.

On the economic front, the Annals study found that female doctors earned less than their doctor husbands and less than their colleagues who were not married to a doctor.

But it may not be so great for the men either. A 2010 study of surgeons married to doctors paints a fairly grim picture of the doctor-doctor relationship. This study of 8,000 surgeons – largely men – found that those married to a doctor were more likely to delay having children, more likely to believe child-rearing affects their career and less likely to believe they had enough time with their family, compared with colleagues who were not married to a fellow doctor.

Surgeons whose spouse was a doctor were also more likely to have depressive symptoms and more likely to have experienced career or work-home conflicts compared with surgeons who were married to non-doctors.

“Surgeons whose domestic partner is another physician appear to experience greater challenges balancing personal and professional life than surgeons whose domestic partner is a working non-physician or who stays at home,” the authors concluded.

You have been warned!