My time spent with Katie O’Hea for this episode of Planning on Call may have been the most relatable interview for me yet. Katie and I discussed the rollercoaster of being married to a resident and the importance of planning through this challenging period of a relationship.
Katie is a executive at Conde Nast in New York City, as well as a good friend of both me and my wife Emily. She also happens to be married to a 2nd year Orthopedic Surgery Resident on Long Island. As Katie notes, if she told her 24-year-old self that, at 34, she’d be living back in her hometown (in her parent’s basement no less), pregnant and working from her suburban, childhood home, she doesn’t know if her former self would believe it. When I met Katie roughly a decade ago, I don’t know if I would have believed it either. Katie is a hardworking, career-driven, extremely social individual who in many ways achieved the Manhattan lifestyle she had always dreamed of living.
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As these things happen, she met… her now husband, Nick. When they met, Nick was in his 2nd year of medical school, a Yale graduate, a former professional Lacrosse player, and generally an all-around impressive individual. However, a career change made Nick a late starter in the medical field, and when they met… he was sleeping on his mom’s couch and partly living out of his Kia Forte as he put himself through medical school. At age 30, this was not the situation that… as Katie said, ‘checked her boxes’.
Katie summed it up well – “when you meet the right person, you make sacrifices.” While marrying a doctor, is not in itself a sacrifice, joining lives with someone in an early stage of their career is something a person has to prepare for mentally, financially, and emotionally. Understanding the sacrifices needed to become a physician is important, especially for partners whose lives previously did not intersect with the medical field.
Marrying an individual, in medical school, requires the non-medical partner to accept that moving several times during the formative years of their own career journey and network building may be a part of that new merged life together. A person also needs to prepare for extended periods of living in a long-distance relationship. This can be made increasingly difficult when either partner is heavily in debt and not making much income. For a physician, typically this is part of the first leg of their medical career path.
A lot of normal financial and relational stress also can come at a time when the spouse or partner cannot be relied upon as a substantial pillar of support because they are going through an experience that potentially rivals what the other teammate in that relationship is going through. Between working and studying, many doctors will be putting in over 80 hour weeks… which does not leave a lot of time for anything outside of perfecting their craft. For career-oriented planners, like Katie, the loss of control over their own path can be jarring. Similar to Katie’s case, things get even more complicated when you decide to begin a family together.
Dr. Mike Brunnquell, who I interview in my next podcast, puts it perfectly – becoming a doctor is a practice in the art of delayed gratification. This in itself is not a problem, as so many things in life are about delayed gratification – especially in the field of financial planning. But the process of becoming a doctor, especially within some of the more intensive surgical routes, puts that practice to an extreme test. Knowing this fact, expecting the difficulty, and accepting (at times) the loss of control, is essential to young couples heading into residency.
Katie and I discuss various solutions that have helped us, such as the importance of creating a support system outside of your spouse. Finding ways to keep busy such as hobbies and analyzing your self-care needs are immensely important. Transparency through open communication during this period is vital because bottling things up will often lead to resentment down the road. Katie stresses the importance of transparency when it comes to finances, and being open about this discussion from the start of the relationship.
When it comes to the morsels of time you do have with your spouse in residency, make good use of it. Make it a priority. Katie shares about having dinners at 2:00 pm and breakfasts at 2:00 am, to make time together around Nick’s schedule. For the vacation time, residents are allowed, be sure that you make the most of it because having something to look forward to is important to the success of your relationship.
Over the course of our conversation, Katie provides tips and honest reflections on her time with Nick, her pregnancy, and her personal journey. Outside of any advice, I hope that anyone listening to this episode gets something out of two individuals having an honest conversation about the difficulty of making relationships work; even when you are married to amazing people that you love very much.
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