Third Year of Medical School (a spouse’s perspective)

As of this month, we’re over halfway through Duncan’s third year of medical school! Third year has been totally different than the first two; the first two years take place in the classroom and labs, while third and fourth year consist of rotations in the hospital and clinics. Every month, Duncan starts a new rotation (with the exception of Internal Medicine and General Surgery lasting two months); the new pace and each month being different has been been such a nice change!

For those of you with a significant other who’s in medical school or hoping to go to medical school in the future, I thought I’d share some of the best and hardest parts about third year (from my perspective).

I’ll start with the difficult parts:

  1. Getting used to your spouse being gone more. Although the first two years are very rigorous academically, Duncan spent a lot of time studying at home, so even though he was studying a lot, he was still at least around throughout the day (which was especially helpful with a newborn). This made the transition to him being gone full work days and doing 12 hour shifts pretty tough. It makes it more difficult to move to a new town, make couples/family friends, and get involved in church,  but I’m trying to embrace it/get out of my comfort zone.
  2. Monthly tests. My husband has loved getting to practice what he’s been learning and getting to know the patients and medical staff in each rotation; that part has been kind of a “light at the end of the tunnel”. It’s so exciting getting to hear about moments like him delivering his first baby, intubating a patient for the first time, etc. But, with that being said, students still have monthly tests over each rotation, which require a lot of study time.
  3. An inconsistent schedule: this one is both a “pro” and a “con” of third year, in my opinion. It’s nice when Duncan’s preceptor works a consistent schedule and good hours, but it can be really hard when he has to do a ton of nightshifts in a row, is constantly switching back and forth between night and day shifts, or is on call. His OBGYN, Family Medicine, and Psychiatry rotations have pretty much been weekdays 8:00-5:00, but the Internal Medicine (IM) and Emergency Medicine (EM) rotations were 12 hour shifts (for IM, he did mostly day shifts but ER was a majority of nightshifts and weekends). The nightshifts were hard to get used to, because Duncan would have to be gone all night, sleep most of the day, then study for the few hours he was awake.

The best parts of third year:

  1. The variety/change of schedule each month: This can be a huge “pro”, because it makes the year go by so quickly. It keeps things interesting and exciting for Duncan, which is exciting for me, too! It also makes the rotations with the not-so-great schedules bearable, because I know they won’t last long.
  2. Not so many tests: Like I mentioned above, there are monthly exams over each rotation (called COMATS), but these really are so much better than the never-ending tests during first and second year.
  3. The first (and worst) portion of COMLEX/USMLE are done! This has probably been the nicest part of this year. Since Duncan attends a DO school, he took the COMLEX this past summer (students typically take this the summer between second and third year). The test is stressful, high pressure, and requires TONS of additional study time; this honestly made the second half of second year (especially the 2 months leading up to the test) extremely stressful and difficult for us. But now that it’s over, I feel like the biggest weight has been lifted off of Duncan’s shoulders (and mine, too, since you take on the stresses of your spouse :)).

These last two and a half years have been a roller coaster, with some of the most trying times and some of the happiest moments of our lives; we’ve had to learn what it really means to prioritize each other, communicate, and work together, even when it feels like we’re living two totally different lives at times. I don’t know what this next year and a half of school will hold (other than lots of residency research, applications, interviews, and finding out where we’ll spend the following 4 years for residency), but I know God will be with us, and I’m thankful we have each other!