Monday, October 15, 2012

Guest Post: Grey's Anatomy in the Real World

Hey there! My name is Beckee and online friends might know me from my blog Ah...Deals...Beckee's Deals ( ) where I write about deals, freebies, giveaways and product reviews. Online I am that deals blogger, but in person most people know me as "the Doctors wife." I love reading Cat's blog about the challenges and blessings of being a military wife. There is a lot I would never know about how the military works for families if it were not for Cat sharing her experiences. I think a lot of people may not know about this whole medical journey either so I want to just share my two cents about the challenges and blessings of being "married to medicine."

Just some background for those that might not know exactly what it takes to go from frat boy to board certified doctor, let me give you a brief synopsis (OK, So, my husband wasn't actually a frat boy, but I couldn't think of a better way to express the growth and time it takes...).

You probably all know that doctors graduate college and then go on to medical school. Medical School is 4 years long. Following Med school is residency. It was not until 3rd year of med school when we were applying for residency that I realized how long residency is. Residencies can be as short as 3 years or as long as 5+. AFTER residency, many doctors do fellowships to FURTHER sub-specialize. In this day and age, a fellowship is becoming more and more necessary to get a job, so most doctors do one now (at least most I know).

Here is how that all worked out for my family. Wes (my husband) did 4 years of medical school (at a very expensive private university). We did not choose one of the most expensive Med schools out there, but that is where he got accepted so that is where we went. (I am not even going to go into how hard it is to get into med school, but just know it is hard, and I recommend applying ALL OVER to MANY places if you are applying now)

When we packed up and moved across the country, we were already married with one child. Here is a picture of Wes and our oldest child at his white coat ceremony (The white coat ceremony is a traditional ceremony during the first week or orientation for medical school where the new students take a student oath and get their first (short) white coats. BTW-as an FYI, the length of coat indicates the level of training):
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Our plan when we moved across the country was for me to get a teaching license for the state of Nebraska (I had been a drama teacher in Utah). I would look for child care for my 8-month-old, find a job and certify during my first year teaching. That, and student loans should get us through.

Well, there was a different plan for us. The day we moved in we found out we had another (welcome surprise) miracle on the way. When we did the math, we figured out that based on my likely salary, day care for 2 young children while I was working would COST US about $100 month. Given that little bit of news, we made a tough decision. We decided that we would have to take out the max loans and live on whatever was left for the year after we paid his tuition. FYI-that worked out to be about $1100, $600 of which went to rent. Once all our bills were paid, we were down to nothing each month (BEFORE paying for food-admittedly I had not yet discovered couponing). We decided to get some help and (I realize this may be controversial to some) we applied for and got on government assistance-food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC. I do not want to get in a political debate here, but I just note this because I know for us, these programs helped us survive the early years as a family married to medicine. Really! This was survival for us at that time. (I was anxious about using "the system" at the time, but a wise friend pointed out to me that one day we will put in far more than we will ever take out, and this is what the system really is for. You are not abusing it just because you need to use it right now.)

Those 2 decisions-to live on loans and to see government assistance also made it possible for me to stay home with our small children! That was a blessing! And we were destined to have a large family! We had our 3rd child between 3rd and 4th years of medical school. Here is a picture of how our family had grown during med school:
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My husband chose to go into Radiology. That means he would do a transitional year (on TV they call it an internship) followed by 4 years of Radiology residency. There is a system set up called the match that determines where you will do these things. The way that works is that you apply for places you would like to do transitional year and residency. You apply for both at the same time. Once you apply, the places decide which candidates they want to interview. At Wesley's med school, he had an "interview month" in his schedule where he was supposed to schedule all his interviews. His month was January. Radiology is a fairly competitive residency to match in, and we knew we better apply all over. I believe we ended up applying at about 35-40 radiology residencies and 9-13 transitional years (I cannot remember exactly where the numbers landed). Wes got interviews at most of the places he applied, but many of them only did interviews during December or November. He was driving and flying all over the country to interview. I could go into more detail about all this, but this is supposed to be an overview...anyway. After interviews, you, the candidate (Wes in our case) takes the list of all the places you interviewed and you rank them in order of where you would like to do residency. The programs take the list of all the candidates they interviewed and rank them in the order of which people they want. For us, we had to make 2 rank lists-one transitional and one radiology. All the rank lists are submitted to a big computer system that matches everyone up as closely as possible to what they want based on the rank lists of candidates and programs! ACK!

On Match Day in March, at Wes's med school the graduating class gets together ( and they bring along family) and they open up their letter telling them where they are going right in front of everyone. It is all very dramatic. You have to try not to cry when you do not get your first choice or when it is not what you expected. Lots of raw emotion comes out in that ceremony! Here is Wes opening his letter on Match day:
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We got our 2nd choice for both transitional year and radiology residency. This would mean we were going to have to move across the country to Spokane, WA, then BACK to Omaha, NE just a year later! (Did I mention that all the travel and expense for interviews and for moving are totally in our hands?!)

We did the transitional year in Spokane, WA and for the first time, Wes was making a small salary! We were no longer living on loans and were not on assistance anymore (a bit of a baptism by fire to have to pay for groceries out of our pocket in WASHINGTON-it was twice as expensive! Ouch!). We were honestly still barely getting by financially. But we were getting along.

We had another surprise miracle the one year we were in Spokane. It proved to be quite a challenge for our family. Wes was now a resident in a transitional year-he was gone a lot (though I admit we had a very easy transitional year in comparison to most). He was on call, and I found myself unexpectedly pregnant and we had 3 young kids (ages 4, 3, and 1). At around 23 weeks in this pregnancy I went into preterm labor and was put on strict bed rest for the rest of the pregnancy. We were lucky enough to have WONDERFUL family come from all over the country to stay with us on shifts for then next few months. My baby was due May 26, and we had to be out of our townhouse May 31. Baby was big and healthy and she was born May 13. Two weeks later, my parents and in laws came to Spokane and packed up our truck with Wes. Our parents, myself and the 4 kids headed out to Utah for 4 weeks while Wes finished his transitional year.

In June we moved back to Omaha where Wes began his residency. Here we are right after moving back to Omaha (my how the family grows):
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What can I say about Residency? Residency is hard. It just is. Lots of call, lots of time away, lots or weird hours...AND while they are doing all this work, they are always studying for the next big tests they have to take. Four (more) years of this for radiology-FOUR! When we moved back to Omaha, our oldest was about to start Kindergarten, and our youngest was 6 weeks old.

Sometime during residency, Wes broke the news that he thought he should do a fellowship. I pay attention to the job opportunities and trends for getting hired out there, so I expected that. But I was still a little deflated...ANOTHER year! Ack...Oh well. onward and upward, right?! We had one more child during residency. (For those keeping track that is 5 now). Here is the family a few months ago (right before residency ended):
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So, for fellowship, again we applied around the country. There is not a match for Wes's fellowship (some fellowships DO use a match, but not his). So we just applied on our own. He was offered two positions in one day and we chose to go to the Mayo clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. I sit here in Scottsdale right now typing this. Wes is a few months into the fellowship, and we started looking for "real jobs" a couple months ago. Wes was offered interviews and went to them. He was wined and dined (though we don't actually drink) and finally, FINALLY, I feel like people appreciate what we have been through and want to hire him! I can see the light at the end of our tunnel very clearly right now and (though it is still a bit on the DL), I can tell you that he has officially accepted a fantastic job that he will begin at the end of fellowship in June. ( More details on that will be on my blog as soon as I can officially give details!!)

Why do I share this?! A couple reasons.

First, if you are "married to medicine," please know you are not alone. I have been there. I get it! I was lucky in that Wesley's med school had a family group where I knew others in my same position, transitional year, I started a playgroup with all the spouses of the residents. We met weekly at a park (until bed rest) and I knew I was not alone. Residency had a well established family support group for resident families as well. I have always had the support of others going through it too, but in talking to friends who were in other schools and residencies. I realize the family support is not often there. I was lucky, and I think you should all know you are not alone and you have support and people that understand!

Second, Though I think the medical journey is unique in a lot of ways, I do not think the challenges I have faced are much different than other careers or families face. All our spouses have crazy schedules sometimes, they travel, they work odd hours, there is a lot going on! A LOT! But wherever you are on your journey, enjoy the ride! Do not let med school, residency or whatever you are doing stop you from living your life and enjoying it. I wrote about what this road has been like and the struggles we have had, but know that we did not ever let those struggles stop us from living our lives and having fun. Sometimes we do think "When we have a job..." but mostly we think about making life great now! Look at that baby in the first picture on this post, then look at this (taken a few weeks ago):
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Notice the lovely young lady on the left side of this picture. My oldest daughter. How much of her life would we have missed had we let the struggles stop us from living our lives and remembering to enjoy the ride?! A lot-don't miss the joy along the road. Really enjoy! Some days will be the "let's just get through today" kinds of days, but make an effort to make MOST days the "wow, that was a great day" days! That is my goal. Now if I can just get through this year... :)

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