Why relationships outside a medical career are hard. But so damn necessary


Disclaimer: I have no perfect solutions for this. This is a part of my life I struggle with, and know many others do too. Maybe that’s why this is not the first of such articles and certainly will not be the last – I can’t be the only one looking for some kind of solution to cramming social engagements into a busy calendar (and failing).


This mid-year ‘break’ came to me as a nasty shock. I knew that fourth year would be hard and holidays aren’t really holidays in medicine when you have to study for exams months, if not years away. But for some reason in my naïve mind I had this image of (at least) a week off where I could lounge around and catch up with all the friends and family who I’m sure think I’ve forgotten them. I might even get back in to one or two of my hobbies I haven’t had time for!

Ha ha ha. Not only did I have a mountain of study to do and extra shifts at work, I realised that my holidays overlapped with just about NOBODY. Our medical school had decided to let us have a nice relaxing time with FREAKING NOBODY. LIKE WE DON’T HAVE A HARD ENOUGH TIME SEEING PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF MED ALREADY. I’m sure there was a fantastic scheduling reason behind it and I probably should have seen this coming but hey, the naïve mind strikes again.

Now don’t get me wrong, holidays with med kids are great! My friends from medicine are wonderful and wacky and 110% necessary to help get me through this course. I experience countless wholesome moments appreciating how amazing and supportive some of the people I’ve met through medicine are.


google search

Thinking about friends in med school turns me in to a wholesome meme I cant help it.


Without these med school friends I wouldn’t have made it this far no doubt about it. But having friends outside of medicine is important too. Not only are they relationships that have been nurtured for years with love and affection but something I’ve discovered since starting an intense course is that they offer you an amazing amount of perspective.

I don’t know how much I can stress the importance of that.

Perspective is so insanely necessary for people, such as medical students, who choose to do an intense course (/life). We are the A+ students, the perfectionists, the hard workers (or naturally gifted…or both those bastards), and dare I say in a massive sweeping generalisation… the neurotic, the stress-heads and the freaker-outers. Those of us that weren’t already somehow become so in med school with myself as a prime example: where I was once laid-back and spontaneous now I live by my calendar.

Which is why we need to keep ourselves grounded. Relationships – be that friend, family or lover need to be nurtured and worked on; the school friends wont remain so if you don’t see them and whilst family members are somewhat obliged to tolerate you to an extent you’ll find yourself missing things if you let it slip. Maintaining romantic relationships is a whole new level. A little sorry-for-self cry was definitely had when I realised all of my romantic vacation plans with my partner were crushed in to the ground by the fact that his faculty follows a normal university holiday schedule and ours does not.

So family, friends, and romance/dating/self-indulging-netflix-and-wine (let us not forget the self relationship). It becomes a difficult balancing act but sadly not one that a quick stint in circus school can fix.


house balancing precariously on cliff
It’s a balancing act. Sometimes a little too precarious for comfort.


This wont become easier – its only the beginning and depending on what specialty you go in to it could get a whole lot worse… why does surgery have to be so darn interesting?

So how does one do it???? From chatting to a few people who seem to get the hang of the balance thing and picking up a few tips along my own way there seem to be a couple of key ideas that pop up again and again:


  1. It can feel like a chore but don’t let it become one
    • Spending time with loved ones can become a chore. You might love them to the ends of the earth but if you’re tired and stressed and have a million things to do you might just not be up to going to see the new experimental photography exhibition you’d planned. Don’t force yourself into it or you’ll start to resent it. People are surprisingly understanding about changed/cancelled plans if you open up as to why. It may be frustrating for them at times but letting them know you’re struggling a bit will help them to understand why you had to, and who knows maybe they can help (I did mention people outside medicine offering perspective right?).
  2. Combining people together isn’t necessarily a bad thing
    • Combining catch ups with people so all your friends come around at the same time or inviting another couple of people to drinks to maximise catch-up efficiency may seem cold and not very personal for those friends. Maybe it is. But is it better than having to cancel your plans with them completely because you have no time? I like to think so. Plus you’re already something they have in common, maybe there’s more and they can become friends themselves?
  3. Setting lower expectations is ok
    • Letting your friend know that you can’t catch up for weekly brunches like you used to is OK. Enjoy the time you do have together – make sure they feel valued when you are with them and they’ll hopefully realise you do care you just cant be there 24/7.
  4. Talking about non-medical things can become hard
    • Same goes for any course where people talk shop all the time. We forget that normal conversations don’t involve colonoscopy chat and that not everybody wants to hear about a cool skin lesion you saw over a burger. This is GOOD. Remember perspective??? Remember talking normally to normal people??? Not only is this good for you and your mates, but it will help your communication with patients –it gives you practice talking in lay-terms about what you’ve been doing and not getting hung up on the specifics.
  5. Practise managing your time and priorities now before it’s too late
    • As I said – it wont get much easier in this department until consultant time and it’s a sad day if you get to that position and have nobody to share it with.
    • If study is #1 priority that’s ok but other things will suffer. If family time is your top beware that your grades might not be perfect. Whatever it is, compromise is key.


I’m aware some of these points are harsh. It doesn’t seem like nurturing relationships it seems like cutting back. I think the point I got from everyone I chatted to is to try and make the most of the time spent with loved ones – if you make it count it doesn’t feel as much like you’re missing out or neglecting relationships, but more like making it worth their while.

Above all give your friends the benefit of the doubt, but don’t leave them in the dark. You’re friends with them for a reason – chances are they’ll be ok with you missing the occasional drinking sesh if you’re open about why.



Eva Matthews Staindl

Year 4 med student

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