Where Are Physicians Finding Their Happily Ever Afters?
One M.D.’S Viral Proposal Sparked Interest In Doctors And Their Love Lives
Last year ended with a big surprise for cardiologist Sthuthi David, a current resident at the University of Virginia, when her high school sweetheart boyfriend, Lee Loechler, gave her the marriage proposal of a lifetime at an independent cinema in Brookline, MA. Loechler, a filmmaker who resides in California, shared on his Instagram page that he spent six months working with an illustrator and animator to alter the ending to David’s favorite Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty, for his elaborate proposal.
At the movie’s end, when the prince breaks the sleeping spell placed on the princess with true love’s kiss, the characters were swapped for animated versions of the couple. The on-screen Prince Lee pulls out a ring and tosses it to real-life Loechler where he proposed to David in front of a theater secretly filled with her family and friends. “I love you with my whole heart, including its ventricles, atriums, valves,” he paused. “She’s a cardiologist,” and laughter filled the theater. “Sthuthi David, MD, will you live happily ever after with me?” and, not surprisingly, he was met with an enthusiastic yes.
Lee Loechler and Sthuthi David’s viral proposal story got us thinking-- where are other physicians finding their happily ever afters? The reality of the many years of required training, the demanding, often unusual working hours and the mental exhaustion associated with the lifestyle of a physician can bring unique challenges to their romantic relationships—yet marriage rates among physicians are higher than the national average, and the majority of single physicians seem to be dating. What’s the story?
A look at physician relationship status
We turned to social media to get a glimpse at doctor love lives with an informal survey in the Facebook group, Doctors On Social Media. We posed the question, “What’s your current relationship status?” and invited members to share their experience with dating, marriage, and love. With a little over 300 responses, here’s how it broke down: 57% are married to a non-physician, 27% are married to a physician, 7% are single and dating, 4% are single and not dating, 2% are in a relationship with a non-physician, 2% are divorced or separated, and 1% fell into an “other” category. The overwhelming majority of respondents are married (85%) and of those that are married, 67% are married to a non-physician, and 32% are married to another physician. About 11% fell into the category of single (whether dating or not), 2% are unmarried with a partner, 2% are divorced or separated, and one respondent is widowed.
While our survey did have a range of unknowns including the age of participants, their gender, and where they’re at in their medical careers, our small sampling actually wasn’t too far off from larger findings. A 2014 survey by AMA Insurance of 5,000 physicians ranging in age from 30-69 reported that roughly 80% of participants were married, 10% were single, 6% were unmarried and 4% were separated, divorced or widowed. They also reported that 40% of physicians are likely to marry another physician, and that number may be higher among those under 40. In a 2008 survey of roughly 8,000 members of the American College of Surgeons, 90% of participants had a domestic partner and half of those partners did not work outside the home. 16% of the respondents’ domestic partners were physicians and around 35% of partners were non-physicians.
How do physicians compare to the American public at large when it comes to relationships and marriage? According to research published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, physicians are more likely to get married, less likely to be single or never marry, are slightly less likely to get divorced, and are slightly less likely to be widowed. So despite the demanding years of schooling and training, odd hours, and high rates of burnout, physicians are finding love.
Physician love stories
It’s no secret that physician relationships are faced with unique challenges compared to many other professions, yet their marriage rates are higher and their divorce rates are lower. Michael F Myers, a specialist in doctors’ health writes,
“Marital challenges are ubiquitous in the relationships of doctors. Common issues include overwork, a need for control, self-neglect, perceived and felt stigma, being a ‘wounded healer’, trouble with boundaries, chemical dependency, depression, and more. Knowing the hallmarks of a healthy relationship, recognizing warning signals of trouble, and taking action through suggested strategies can be salutary.”
With the overwhelming majority of physicians married or in domestic partnerships, where did their love stories begin? Many participants’ stories included stints of long-distance, like Lynn Stiff, “We’ve been together more years in our lives than not, which is crazy to think. He’s a non-physician. We did distance during college, got married and lived together, and then did distance again while married during two years of medical school. He’s super supportive, stays home with the kids and is basically a saint,” she goes on to share about the challenges of prioritizing her marriage with the demands of life, work and three kids under five years old. She says that emphasizing monthly date nights ensures alone time together.
Others, like Emily RW Davidson, have significant others that traveled with them on every step of the way, “[I’ve been] married to my drama teacher husband for ten years this year. [We’re] college sweethearts, married during M3 year, had our son PGY4 of OBGYN residency. He’s done every move with me—left LA to join [me] in CHI during med school, followed me to NC for residency and CLE for fellowship.”
Jzika Ln Waznik’s story of marriage to another physician went like this, “[We] met in the anatomy lab when I was in med school. [We] got married in med school, first baby in residency, second right after,” She goes on to say, “I love being married to a physician. The hours can be tough, but family is our priority, and I love discussing all the fun things we see at work and learning together.”
Some participants have others to thank for their now marriages, like Stephanie Benson Page, who was set up on a blind date in medical school 17.5 years ago. “Married now 15.5 years, he is a stay at home dad to our three children. He’s amazing, so grateful to our friends who set us up.” And Physician Outlook founder Marlene Wüst-Smith who shared her love story, “Married Almost 21 years to my non-physician hubby. Set up by my patient—his niece (who was four years old at the time),” She writes, “[I] had dated physicians and kissed a lot of [frogs]; had almost given up on finding a soulmate and having a baby until I met him.”
Marion Mass’ love story began when she met her now-husband, Steve, at her roommate’s dinner party. At the time, Dr. Mass was in a long-distance relationship, but the two become fast friends. Three years later, she finally started dating Steve. She shared, “It was this thunderclap of realization for both of us. Like, oh, wow, I love this person.” Then came the variable of the match, which for some physician relationships, can be the demise. Fortunately for these two, things worked out favorably.
Due to a scheduling mix up while traveling together for residency interviews, they had extra time to spend in Chicago. She explained, “We had a wonderful time…we were young and childless and flexible. I remember sitting in this window seat in this adorable Italian restaurant…and I said to my husband that if we didn’t match in Chicago, I for certain wanted to come back and visit anyway,” Well, luck was on their side. Her now-husband matched early in Chicago, “Because ENT is one of those early matches,” and Dr. Mass had applied to only one program in Chicago, “So, that’s what I put in for, [and] 25 years later…he’s still my one!”
And what about the single physicians among us?
Not every physician in our survey has been lucky in love or even wants a significant other to be a part of their happily ever after. Two participants stated their relationship status as “surrounded by dogs” and one as a “technosexual”, which the internet tells me is an individual with a love for gadgets. A few chimed in that they were happily divorced, or divorced with no desire to date at the moment. Of the 11% of respondents in the single category, the majority are actively dating. But dating as a physician, no matter where you’re at in your career, isn’t a walk in the park. Some physicians just don’t see it as a priority.
Jessica Lynne wrote, “Single and not even dating because it’s practically impossible as a locum. Men have a hard time with successful women, and my track record is finding ones that try to put you down to make up for their insecurities. Still looking for my unicorn.” Sadly, her experience isn’t unique. My own sister-in-law, an Attending Emergency Physician, has had her fair share of relationships end because male physicians and non-physicians alike feel threatened by her success.
Own your happily ever after, whatever that means for you
Happily ever after looks different for all physicians. Some have found it in marriage and children, and some in fur babies or gadgets. Others are loving the single life or are happily divorced. Some of you may still be looking for a partner to share your life’s successes, dreams, and challenges with. And, hey, you never know—maybe, like Sthuthi, your prince charming will surprise you during a screening of your favorite film. Whatever the case may be, own your happily ever after—practice self-care and make an effort to say no to some of the stresses and demands in your life in order to make room for more love, whatever that means for you.
AMA Insurance. (2014). Work/Life Profiles of Today’s U.S. Physician. Chicago: AMA Insurance Agency, Inc.
Dyrbye LN, S. T. (2010). Physicians Married or Partnered to Physicians: A Comparative Study in the American College of Surgeons. American College of Surgeons, Abstract.
Myers, M. F. (2004, October). Medical Marriages and Other Intimate Relationships. Medical Journal of Australia, 181(7), 392-394.
Rachel L. Perlman, M. P. (2015, June). Having It All: Medicine and a Family. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90(6), 713-715.