“Falling in love is a wonderfully terrifying sensation.” ~ Steve Maraboli
On August 31st my husband Colin and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage. I don’t take this milestone for granted, and to celebrate it, I wanted to spend the next 4 posts celebrating, reminiscing and hopefully inspiring healthy relationships. These posts are more personal in nature and hopefully reflect other relationships that have overcome whatever is necessary to stay and grow together.
If you know me or follow my blog, you know that Colin is also a physician. What you may not know is that our story together started in medical school.
If you believe that some things happen for a reason, this is one such an example.
Choosing what medical school you attend is really more about who chooses you first. I had gratefully accepted a spot at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in London, Ontario (now called Shulich School of Medicine & Dentistry following a very generous donation) and was watching the moving truck pull out of my parents driveway, when the phone rang and I was offered a spot at Memorial University (I had been on the waiting list). Although both were notable schools with so much to offer in different ways, the chosen path to UWO was step one on the journey that changed my life.
During the first few days prior to starting classes, our medical school class of 96 eager students was oriented through various activities and events including a pub crawl. Of all places, this is where I met my future husband. Our connection was immediate and we developed a friendship instantly. We had both traveled from small eastern Canada provinces to attend medical school far from home. It always helps when you think someone understands where you come from, but that literal translation would soon become much deeper.
Before long we spent most of our waking hours together. Our friendship quickly grew into love and despite being in class together all day, we spent all of our time outside of class together too. Although falling in love can be a distraction from what needs to get done, it offered me a sense of security and companionship that kept me on track. I found the first 2 years of medical school challenging where many classmates were familiar with the terminology in classes such as anatomy and physiology. My undergraduate science background was filled with a lot of marine biology and psychology (which I loved by the way and wouldn’t have traded for feeling further ahead in medical school).
By the end of first year, it became apparent that it would make more sense to cut down on travel time and logistics to live together. We moved into a one bedroom apartment where we would live the next 3 years. We certainly didn’t have much in those days financially, except student loans, but we had one another and our cat Sammy and that was more than enough to feel content and grateful.
Already doing things a bit unconventionally compared to our peers, we decided to get married at the end of our second year of medical school. We were fairly young getting married as future doctors – I 24 and Colin 25 – but we were more certain that we wanted to be together until “death do us part” than anything. Another practical factor was that we would be facing the residency match after third year and wouldn’t have a summer break between third and fourth years. We wanted to approach the match as a married couple in hopes this would improve our chances of being matched together (I will explain more below). It just made sense to us and fortunately our parents were more than supportive of our plans.
We got married on August 31st, 1996 in a lavish economical ceremony at my parent’s home with just immediate family. In keeping with the understated theme, our reception was held in the very same home with our close friends and family. Some friends even travelled from afar to celebrate with us which was so special. Don’t let the modest undertones make you think it was anything but a perfect day for us. I never dreamt of walking down the isle in an elaborate gown. I was much more concerned with the “ever after”, especially growing up with a father who was a family therapist.
Our honeymoon was then underway as we travelled for 2 days in our little Volkswagen Golf back to London.
You may know about the residency match process, especially if you are a physician or connected to one closely, and if so, you know it is an intense process with an uncertain outcome. In brief, in your final year of medical school, you apply to residency programs through the medical schools, based on the specialty you choose and the location you want to be in. This requires a lot of advance preparation with electives in the preceding year so that you really appear committed towards your goals. Unfortunately, neither of us was truly prepared for the amount of energy that goes into this process from applications and letters to traveling across the country to other medical schools for interviews.
Colin and I had our eye on one goal – being matched to the same city.
This meant that we had to interview at the same medical schools in order to rank them. The match process comes down to you ranking the order of programs starting at #1 down, based on the location and programs you want following the interview process. The programs then ranks candidates they want in order and both compilations come up with a “match”. Match day itself happens in March where you are handed an envelope that determines your future (I would be curious to ask the younger generation if it is still done this way).
As someone who is very familiar with anxiety, I remember how intensely terrifying that day was. Colin and I had entered the match as a couple, which meant we had to match together based on our selections. In keeping with our values, we took a huge chance and only ranked 5 choices. We weren’t willing to be in different locations for 2 plus years (my program was 2 years and Colin’s was 5 years) so our options were limited based on both of us applying to only one type of program and having both interviewed in the same 5 schools.
When I opened the envelope and saw “University of Calgary – Family Medicine” I felt joy and disbelief. It was almost too god to be true. This meant Colin would have matched to our number 1 choice Calgary too. This was a pivotal point in our lives as it sent us on another journey together. I like to reflect on this sometimes, as I don’t want to lose sight of the gratitude I have for the match working out for us. Not only were we going to the university we desired in our chosen specialties, most importantly we would be together.
I plan to end each of these posts with a question and reflection from Colin.
Sara: What do you believe was the biggest challenge to our relationship during medical school?
Colin: Without a doubt, our biggest challenge involved external factors and pressures. The demands on our time during those 4 years meant we had to carve out specified time for one another and ourselves – a good approach moving forward when external factors tended to escalate even more. In clerkship, our last 2 years of medical school, being on call proved very demanding and we were starting to feel sleep deprived. This took its toll both emotionally and physically so we had to work even harder on spending quality time together. In addition to this, it was difficult to coordinate call schedules so we missed each other more, especially since we were inseparable the first 2 years in classes and labs. Having both of us traveling the same path and knowing the expectations of our medical training, it made it easier for us to accept this time premium.
Until next week when we visit the residency years…