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Embracing the Loneliness as a White Coat Significant Other

By: Calla McKinley

Over the past four years, there is one sound I have truly come to love. The garage door opening. It is a sound that I don’t think I ever noticed before we started the medical school journey and is a sound I am sure I will long forget when the journey is over, but over the past four years, it is one that I catch myself looking for every single day. Yearning for it to happen. That simple sound means that my medical school student is home.

No one can realistically understand the true feeling of loneliness until you experience it yourself. You can see it in movies, hear others talk about it, read it in books, but until you experience loneliness, it just seems like a common emotion. I remember people telling me that medical school is a long lonely journey and I felt that hard during those first few months. Your student is figuring out their new life, adjusting to the long hours, grueling study schedule, both while feeling excited and nervous for this new journey they are embarking on. Relatives are proud of them for accomplishing the unthinkable and making it into medical school and as their main support, we too are so unbelievably proud of them. We watch them every single day get up and pack their bag and head to school, we listen to the garage door shut and count the hours until the garage door opens signifying another day done.

But the hours in-between those two sounds can be long. Really long. The quiet settles in as you adjust to your new life too. The long hours of working or raising kids, the grueling tasks of life that don’t end just because your significant other is gone, both while feeling excited and nervous for this new journey you too are embarking on, the loneliness sits in. And that is okay! It is supposed to set in and what you do with that loneliness is how you will conquer these next four years.

Find Your People: There is no one who understands what it is like to be in medical school unless you are in medical school. Others can try, but you’ll soon find yourself getting asked “well can’t he just stop studying early tonight?” The answer could be yes, and we wish it was yes, but realistically, that answer is far too often no. And that’s okay. Remember that your student is here for a reason, a reason they are so dearly excited and passionate about. To make a difference in the healthcare field which is no easy task. So find your people. Reach out to those around you that are in the same position as you. Plan activities, go for walks, movie nights, park days, grocery shopping runs, lunch dates, basically anything to mingle. Because I promise you, they are just as lonely as you are. And when you find your people I promise you it is so much easier and that loneliness starts to go away. You have someone to talk to (and yes vent to on occasions) that understands exactly what you are going through. Your people will be there for everything. There to match your giddiness as a free weekend approaches, there to be your shoulder to cry on when the journey just seems too long, there to boost you and tell you it's okay, there to laugh with, there to talk about the future, there to be just as proud of your student as they are of theirs. And with time those people will become your family. Family you will cherish for time to come when those four years are over. So find your people.

To Go or To Not Go: Funny enough, life keeps on going for everyone else while you are in medical school. Holidays and birthdays to be celebrated, get togethers with friends and families, community events, the whole nine yards. It just keeps going. For everyone except our students sometimes. Please don’t get in your mind that all they do is study and do school because they will absolutely have free time and can join you attending events. But there will be times, more often than not, when a test will fall around the same time as a fun event and your student can’t attend. And this is where you are faced with two choices. To go or to not go. The answer that may be hard to tell yourself at first but will get easier, is to always go. Go to each event even if you have to go alone. I promise it is more fun to be alone in a crowd versus being alone at home. Invite others to attend with you if you don’t want to go all by yourself. It is okay to have fun and enjoy yourself while your student is busy with school. Oddly enough they are having fun too. ;) So if your student can’t attend because of school, always go. You won’t regret it.

Discover You: Over the course of the four years of medical school, your student is going to learn an unthinkable amount of information. There have been multiple times my student comes home so excited to tell me what he learned that day and to be honest, it goes in one ear and out the next. But I often was jealous that my student had something to work towards every single day. So while you are supporting them, don’t forget to support yourself. Find something that you are passionate about that you can work towards as well. It could be anything big or small. Challenge yourself to grow. It could be hiking, walking, learning to cook, cleaning, reading a certain amount of books each month, writing a book, etc. The limit of possibilities is endless and yes, it’s cheesy, but I promise you that if you have something to work towards it gives you a sense of accomplishment too.

Get Involved: Rather than waiting for your student to come home, get out and get involved. Join your local community Facebook groups, religious groups, and medical school groups. Join anything! Not only is it the best way to find your people, but is another amazing way to stay busy. You will quickly discover that others don’t necessarily love being lonely either and are looking for ways to meet people and enjoy the journey too. The very first event I attended was a favorite things party hosted by one of the first year wives. I went with some random girl I had only met once before and the hours leading up to it were filled with endless nerves. But I forced myself to go and in doing so allowed me to not only meet the people who became my best friends, but learned about more fun events that others were hosting.

One day soon I know that the garage door is going to shut one last time and that feeling is going to be incredible. In doing so it is going to close on a large chapter of not only my students life, but my life as well. In the past four years I have learned to extend my arms to the loneliness and while it wasn’t easy, have learned to embrace it. Loneliness isn’t something we can wish away but is something you can have a say in. So have a say. Remember that while the days feel long the years are short - I know cheesy, right? But it couldn’t be more true. You’ll soon find yourself wishing the hours could last just a little bit longer so you can stay within a few minutes drive of the friends who have become your family. You’ll wish the weeks didn’t go by so fast so you can attend just a few more park days and favorite things parties. You’ll wish you had just a few more seconds of alone time to finish that book while your student is sitting on the couch studying next to you. So don’t let the loneliness stop you from enjoying the journey because I promise you when the time comes to say goodbye, you won’t want to.

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