Postgraduate Medical Training, Stress, and Marriage
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In a pilot study, 20 interviews were conducted with married female interns and residents and their spouses in order to explore both positive effects of spousal support and negative effects of additional role obligations during medical training. The marital state has been shown to be related to lowered levels of stress. Past studies of medical marriage have focused on male physicians and their wives. However, marriage and parenthood impact differently on women than men, and thus on women physicians. To explore these differences, our findings are contrasted with findings on male medical students and their wives by R. Coombs. Compared to our subjects, Coombs found spouses were either housewives or held lower level jobs rather than demanding careers, and consequently our subjects experienced greater difficulty meeting demands of everyday life (cooking, cleaning, child care). Coombs' wives showed greater vicarious identification with the goals and satisfactions of the physician in-training; greater feelings of obligation to nurture, support and make sacrifices on behalf of their spouses; and less resentment toward the current system of medical training. They stressed the nurturing aspect of marital support rather than instrumental aspects. Subjects in both studies feared growing apart but while Coombs' wives feared being outgrown intellectually, our husbands were critical of their wives' narrowness of interests. Subjects in both studies believed marriage provided benefits (intimacy, support, affection, sex) but also complained of the negative impact of exhausting and emotionally draining medical training. Implications of findings for reducing the stress of medical training are discussed.
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