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Making the most of a match: How one physician's spouse struggled after the match process and finally found solidarity


Match Day. A single day that impacts the futures of the 4,800 Canadian Medical students and the 1,800 IMGs that apply to Canadian residency programs every year. Plus, the tens of thousands of their family members. 

As the spouse of a doctor, my Match Day is a day I’ll never forget. 

I was in a virtual meeting at my home in Toronto when my phone vibrated at around 10:00 am. “I got the email; we’ll look together when I get home,” read the text message that I received from Dr. H. 

Fast forward through the longest seven hours of my life; he got home and we opened the email. 

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“Congratulations Dr. H.” My husband matched to his speciality— in Ottawa. I was relieved for him. As an IMG, he had a 16% chance of matching to his specialty (I had done the math well in advance). After celebrating this accomplishment, it started to sink in. That email did not address me. In fact, nobody knew (or cared) if their new resident had a spouse, partner, or children, and if or how this match would impact anybody other than their matchee. But my entire life changed that day, too. We were both moving to Ottawa in three months; a move (one of many) that I had to organize and oversee. 

My physician spouse was going to residency, but I was just going to Ottawa (the coldest capital city in the world, I’ll have you know). He was going toward his future and I was leaving everything behind. I was moving to a new city with no program or peers waiting to meet me. There was no welcome week for spouses, no orientation, no hospital tour. We weren’t even invited to the talks for residents on finances (yet, I handle our family’s finances!). 

It is clear that spouses and partners are impacted by geographical moves, call schedules, and middle-of-the-night-pages, too—yet, we aren’t recognized as part of the medical system. I felt left out and isolated. My job, which I could thankfully keep despite the move to Ottawa, kept me busy during the day, but I spent countless evenings and weekends—and five New Year’s Eves in a row—all alone.

Residency is hard.It’s hard for residents and it’s hard for spouses and partners. Statistically, residents are at a very high risk of burnout, depression and suicidal ideation. I was acutely aware of these statistics and terrified by them. I certainly didn’t want to compound these risks by telling my husband that I too was suffering. So, I said nothing because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know whom to tell.

And then in year four of our five-year residency (better late than never!), I came across a tweet that changed things for me.

The tweet introduced The Flipside Life; a group for spouses and partners of medical students and physicians living on the flipside of the white coat-feeling just like me. The Flipside Life was founded by one of our very own, Hayley Harlock, a physician spouse and social worker based in Ontario, who hosts weekly Zoom calls where spouses can connect and support one another. 

And so I called into one; having no idea what to expect. And I was met by a group of people that not only understood, but that shared my experience. They too were matching and moving and sacrificing their careers to prioritize their partners’ medical journeys. They too were impacted by call schedules and middle-of-the-night pages and journal clubs. And they too were aware and terrified of those depression and suicide statistics. As partners of physicians, we share an understanding and common bond solidified by these unique challenges; the impacts that we understand, but that the system doesn’t. I still spent a lot of time on my own in Ottawa during my husband’s residency, but I no longer felt alone. 

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The Flipslide Life does more than just connect partners and spouses; it advocates to improve the experience for physician families; so that we can thrive, not just survive.  

There are 6,600 emails going out on April 12 that will impact the lives of Canadian doctors and their families for years to come. If you’re waiting for an email, if you’re sending an email, if you’re a program director or in a position to improve the experience for these doctors and their families; please tell them about TFSL.

The author of this piece is a physician spouse living in Ottawa who has asked to submit this piece anonymously for privacy reasons. 

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