August 31, 2011

Formal Support Systems

Hello fellow med school tagalongs!

My name is Ashley, my husband is Christian (MS2), and we hail from sunny Arizona! I am also in graduate school working on my nursing master's for midwifery and women's health nurse practitioner, so we live in a house of healthcare providers. Because we're both super busy with school, there are great days and there are less than great days. I've learned to lean on my support systems to help work through the tough days.

Speaking of which, my post today is more of a question: Does your school provide a formal support system (group/network) specifically for partners of the medical students?

At the beginning of first year, they held a dinner for families/spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends of the students with a panel of MS2 - MS4s, answering questions and sharing their experiences. I found this sooo helpful, but as the year passed I found myself not as connected as I'd hoped with other spouses/partners. I did things with the group of students my husband rolls with, but spouses/partners were not always in tow and the topic of discussion was school! I happened to bump into one wife at an event and we developed a friendship. I babysit her kiddos occasionally, she shares her wisdom with me (her husband is a year ahead of mine), and we're able to commiserate and understand each other as we are experiencing similar challenges in our lives.

I decided this year that I'd love to develop these friendships with other spouses and encourage networking and connections between other spouses with like situations (spouses with kids, husbands of med students, etc.) I decided to start a group to plan the occasional activity together so we can all meet each other and help each other through the four magical years we're spending together.

To me, this blog is a similar idea: people with similar life experiences sharing stories, antics, advice and support. And it's working! :)

So, my question is this: What is your experience with formal groups for support persons? How are they organized, what kind of stuff do you guys do? If not, what kind of things would you want to see in such a group? Any advice?


Jeff and Lauren said...

When my husband was a medical student, there was a group for significant others and they had a couple of informational sessions for people new to the area. It was helpful but they really didn't meet regularly and I was longing for friends!

That's kind of how this blog started actually. 4 of us newbies that met at one of those informational studies decided to branch off and form a little Bible Study. We had common interests and did a lot together over the years - picnics, walks, shopping, dinner, birthday parties, celebrating holidays, etc. The group grew and we also decided to start this blog.

Anyway, now my husband is a third year resident and I have been SOOOOO blessed by the spouses group that is financially supported by his hospital. It is a LARGE hospital so ours is a big group. Because we have lots of money to spend, the group is very organized. We have "officers" who plan different events through the year: adult social activities, family fun activities, volunteering opportunities, etc. I cannot say enough about how wonderful it is to have these women though.

If you're thinking about starting something, maybe you can put together an email chain and ask the school to send an email to the students that can be passed on to any spouses (they may not be willing to do that though). If you are going to plan events, there are so many places that offer discount tickets to groups and it might be a way to do things that you couldn't otherwise afford. Or, it is always just nice to have a few friends going through the same season of life. It is great to meet when the spouses are busy studying for an upcoming exam or have to work on the weekends.

When applying for residency though, I would definitely ask about any spouse support groups. Not that it will totally change where you rank, BUT I can say from experience that the group here is amazing and has made our residency experience VERY enjoyable for our whole family.

Becky Stephens said...

My husband is an MS3, and I could not have made it this far without my group. We are officially called the Medical Student Auxiliary and are in our 64th year of existence! So, I have no personal advice on starting a group, but I can say it's wonderful! We started as a wives club but now have fiances and husbands as well.

We try and plan events the night before big tests, as the week has likely already been pretty hard on the med spouses. We also have a date night type event the second Friday of every month. Then, we have family and volunteering events as well. Officially, the club meets twice a month. We've become a close group of friends, though, and meet informally much more frequently.

Also, we've contracted with the school to compile the student and faculty directory every year as our fundraiser. The work is fairly minimal, but it's important that it's done in a timely manner. The company we work with sells ads in it, so there is no cost to the school. And, we make enough to fund pretty much everything we want to do during the year, which works out great!

Good luck trying to get this started at your school. If you need more ideas, we have a blog at!

Lauren said...

My husband is an MS1 and I cannot tell you how helpful our support group has been. SAA (Student Advocate Association) is a group for spouses, fiances, and boyfriend/girlfriend's of students. It recognized by the university as a student group so we are able to meet regularly on campus and use the facilities to host events for us and our students. Along with providing support for our students and the community, we have social events, hobby nights, date nights, family groups, and play groups for the people with kids.

I have met some seriously amazing women (and men!) through this organization, and I know this group will become even more important in keeping each other sane as our students get busier. I am a huge advocate for support groups, and would encourage anyone who does not have a formal one at your school to look into getting one started -- I guarantee you will find lots of other SO's who are looking for the same connection!

Steph D said...

At USC in California, the school started a formal support group last year when my husband was an MS1 and I'm really glad that they did. It was a great way to connect with people even if only for a short time and not very frequently. Fortunately, I've become closer with one of the other wives who is also a mom of young children, so we can go on walks together etc and get to know each other one on one.

I like the formal aspect of it in terms of being able to use the school facility, also they provide food/drink when we meet on campus, having a panel of older students and spouse to ask questions, and the psychologist is really a great laid back guy who is not intimidating or overpowering. But, it is harder to have a "friendship" building atmosphere when at school, with a given topic to "discuss" instead of just chatting and naturally having conversation. So I think it is good to also have other off campus times to develop those relationships. I'm actually hosting a backyard wine and cheese (potluck style) hang out w/ both med students and sig others next week, to try to get connected as well as come along side the first year spouses/significant others.

It is so crucial to form relationships (rather than just thinking you have to get through the next 4 years) and being connected to other spouses/significant others is definitely a good way to be able to be involved in "their [med student] world."

As a side note, I'm not sure if anyone has experience being involved with a Side By Side group (a ministry through CMDA [Christian Medical Doctors Association] to wives of med students/residents/doctors), but I learned about it recently and really wished that there were something like this in the Los Angeles area. I wish I could start a group, but don't think it is feasible for me right now with a toddler and infant at home! Maybe during residency.

Best wishes to getting your group to continue to meet/grow together! The best way is for you to take your desire for connecting with people and make it happen!

Marisa said...

My boyfriend of more than 4 years is an MS4. For his first two years of medical school, he was in the Caribbean, and I was in the states in law school, so I had no opportunity to network with other significant others. During his 3rd year, he came back to the states for clinicals, and I was still in law school. I just moved to Michigan to be with him during his final year of medical school, and there is no formal support system for significant others. None of his friends have serious significant others that live close by, and I don't have a job yet, so I haven't been able to make friends that way, either. Any suggestions for making friends?

Leah the Foodie said...

Hi! I'm Leah and my husband just started his med school journey as an MS1 at the University of Pittsburgh. We have a 2-year-old boy and I am a stay-at-home mom and run a home-based business. My husband is working part-time with his former job as a researcher on top of dealing with this first 6wks of school (hello? Anatomy!!!). During Orientation Week the school hosted a dinner for significant others, but other than that I don't think there is any other support but we'll be looking into it. I did meet another 'spousal md' girl who's husband is also an MS1 and they're expecting their first child soon! If anyone has any advice or words of wisdom, I would greatly appreciate it as I am trying to support my husband and keep our home a happy one.