Surgical specialty training is a challenging and rewarding career, just ask my husband. He is a 3rd year Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery trainee. And I am his wife. I am a registered nurse by profession, which is on hold indefinitely. I look after our two beautiful young boys aged 3 and 1.
I want to give you insight into the family life of a surgical trainee’s spouse in Australia. The road to becoming a surgical consultant can be a long and intense one, especially for people who want to juggle family life along side it while they are still young. Since meeting my husband at the Canberra Hospital in 2005, we have moved 8 times, and we are still looking at moving overseas for a fellowship and then finally settling down somewhere. Not all surgical training is like this, it really depends on the specialty.
My husband works long hours. Our neighbors often ask if my husband is real. When he comes home after these long days and finally has a free evening, or a day off – he is tired (of course), or has to study, or do presentations. This leaves such little energy for the kids and myself. Some terms are better than others, and I just try to enjoy those less demanding terms, and know the more intense terms don’t last forever and will be over soon. Very soon my husband will be sitting his fellowship exam. The year leading to the exam is the toughest on family life, as my husband will need to work, and study, and for months on end. The most frequent bit of advice I have received from other surgical spouses is to take the kids and go and stay with your mother for 3-4 months prior to the exams. Otherwise, they tell me, that it is such a highly stressful period leading up to the exams that resentment can creep into the relationship.
Uprooting from friends and family frequently with little or no support, it can be tricky as the trailing spouse. We are always seeing a dentist for the first time and seeking out good new GP’s that (hopefully) still see new patients. On the plus side we have met so many wonderful people throughout our journey, and made so many close friends. We have seen so much of Australia. Living in so many different places allows us to see cities through the eyes of the locals, which can only been seen by living there. Each time we move I try to get amongst the local culture and enjoy the city for what it is and what it has to offer.
My career has been put on hold, for a while at least, while the boys are young. My husband’s hours and the nature of his on-call commitments do not allow him to be responsible for any regular comings and goings of the children – daycare, extra curricular activities etc. As we do not have any family where we live, it only leaves me to find work inside of day care hours. As a registered nurse the work is primarily shift work, and day care does not offer these hours. So it suits our family unit for me to be at home, for now.
We work as a team to get through the training period, knowing that we are both working towards a bright and secure future for ourselves and our boys. I love our life, and would not change it, but there are many challenges as a surgeon’s spouse. Having worked in health care has definitely helped me to understand the pressures of my husband’s job. My husband loves his job. There is no other way he could do what he does if he didn’t.
Co-founder of Australian Doctor’s Spouse Network