Take the busyness that any two professionals in a couple might have and layer on critical illnesses, emergency surgeries, grant applications, and two incessantly beeping pagers. This is the reality for dual-physician couples.
When you’re a doctor who’s married to a doctor, how do you address the quotidian demands of family life? What does a work-life balance look like? Who cooks? Who cleans? How do you approach child rearing? And, on the rare occasion when you’re both off-call, what do you do for date night?
I recently followed four dual-doctor couples — married between five and 17 years — into their domestic spheres to get some answers. “Truthfully, I never thought I was going to marry a doctor because of the potential drawbacks,” one of the physicians I spoke with — Kristina Kudelko, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine — told me. “I was considering the usual, you know, lead guitarist or professional tennis player. But now I’m so happy I did. He gets it. Hard days, complex patients, unexpectedly long call days. No explanation necessary.”
Kudelko was talking about her husband, Pedram Fatehi, MD, MPH, a clinical assistant professor of nephrology and pulmonary and critical care medicine. The couple, who were introduced by a mutual friend when they were residents in New York, have two children and have adopted an egalitarian mindset towards domestic duties.
Kudelko explained: “I will be responsible for grocery shopping and for cooking, sure. But Pedram is amazing in how much he does: laundry, garbage, diapers being changed, kids being bathed and put to bed. For sure I have a 50-50 partner.” Fatehi stepped in to clarify his household role a bit: “I also fix all the broken stuff,” he said, “so maybe more like 51-49, with me doing more.”
There is much talk about the need for people to seek a balance between work and life. When both wife and husband are doctors seeing patients and doing research, the challenges are measurably greater. How do Fatehi and Kudelko find equilibrium? By providing support and picking up the slack, said Fatehi. “When one of us is on service, the other knows that he or she will be the person doing the pickups and drop-offs for the kids and doing the extra stuff. That way we don’t have to make the decision about whether to be with the family or the patient.”
For Kudelko, efficiency provides the key to work-life balance: “I am now super-efficient at work, meaning that I know I don’t have the time I used to have at home to pick up my computer and review something. I plan my day so that work is work and home is home.”
Though the bulk of their time is lost to work and what Fatehi jokingly refers to as the “kid vortex,” they occasionally find time to sneak in quiet moments together – during a lunch on campus or at happy hour with friends. Fatehi elaborated: “We’re sleep-deprived enough that it’s not as though we would want to be out at a raging party all night long.”
Previously: My couple’s match: Applying for medical residency as a duo and Surgeon offers his perspective on balancing life and work
Photo of Pedram Fatehi and Kristina Kudelko by Norbert von der Groeben