by Scott Humphreys, MD, Medical Director Colorado Physician Health Program (CPHP)
Featured in the August-September-October 2023 Colorado Medicine Colorado Medicine.
At Colorado Physician Health Program (CPHP), we have evaluated over 6,000 Colorado physicians. Most of these physicians are married and we have noticed some vulnerabilities and areas of strength common in their relationships.
I hope you will find these relatable.
First, our marriages (primary relationships) are incredibly important. It is not just the marriage itself. When professional satisfaction has been studied in physicians, hours, paperwork, administrative tasks and pay did not correlate to professional satisfaction as strongly as contentment with their marriage. In other words, being happy in your marriage makes you a more satisfied and, arguably, better doctor.
There are a number of challenges physicians face that are well known. We work long hours and our jobs are stressful. But there are other threats to our marriages that are often unaddressed or just accepted. I will briefly discuss a couple examples here.
The average physician will graduate medical school with over a quarter million dollars in debt. It is not unusual for us to see early physicians with twice that. Whereas many of our friends and colleagues outside of medicine have been working for a decade or more, by the time we finish our education we are in our 30s with no savings and tremendous educational debt. This creates obvious stress on our relationships. This can be compounded by making decisions often pressured by this debt including working in an isolated setting for loan repayment. Most of us have been educated and trained in relatively urban areas and have become used to what these population centers offer. Trying to start a marriage and family in a setting that may seem unfamiliar can further stress a new marriage.
Communication can be a pain point. Medicine is, by necessity, a hierarchy. We deal with life and death. We are taught communication with staff and colleagues should be direct and quick. This style serves its purpose in the hospital but not in the home. Open communication takes time, a resource all young families lack. It is important to prioritize time for your spouse to feel heard and respected. This requires knowledge many of us don’t have. At CPHP we have found a short course of marital therapy can lead to exponential rewards.
I also want to share some good news. Historically, doctors have had a divorce rate higher than the general population. In the past several years, this has reversed to the point that our divorce rates are now significantly lower. While this trend is positive, we all could use help now and then. I just want to remind you that CPHP is here for you. CPHP helps not only with health problems but relationship and situational challenges, including marriage difficulties! Give us a call: 303-860-0122.