By: Caitlin Kunz
Hi! I’m Caitlin Kunz and my husband, Tyler, graduated from RVU in 2022! His plan going to med school was to practice full scope family medicine, and last year he matched in the ISU Family Medicine Residency in Pocatello, ID. He is currently in his first year of Residency. We have three little boys (6, 4, 2) and I work part-time as a business consultant and in higher education as a marketing instructor. My husband is from Southeast Idaho, so we are very happy to be in Pocatello!
I wanted to share some information about what Residency life is like and other takeaways. This is a bit detailed, so I’ve sectioned it off to allow you to skip the sections you don’t need and refer to the ones you prefer. I hope some of this information is helpful!
What is a Family Medicine Residency Like?
Family Med is a 3-yr Residency Program with options to move into fellowships upon graduation. Our program has a strong emphasis on rural medicine, hospital medicine, OB and sports medicine, so those are all options that residents from our program pursue upon graduation. Other options for fellowships after a Family Medicine Residency are vast and include geriatrics, pediatrics, emergency medicine, addiction medicine, etc.
In a Family Medicine Residency, residents complete month-long rotations where they learn about and work in a variety of settings that encompass the full-scope of family medicine. Throughout the years, residents gradually work up to more continuity clinic days (working with their own patients in clinic). Most Family Medicine Residencies offer “tracks” or specialized areas for students to spend more time. Here, the tracks are wilderness medicine and surgical OB. Tyler is joining the wilderness medicine track which means he’s out on the ski hill quite a bit and doing backcountry rescue/training.
What Does Your Schedule Look Like in Residency?
Like most residencies, Tyler’s schedule is determined by the rotation he’s on. Most days, he’s out the door around 7 A.M. and gets home around 5:30-6 P.M. I get up early to exercise so I can be done before he leaves. I spend my mornings doing my own personal studies, then get the boys ready and off to school. I run errands or clean the house, and when naptime hits, I hustle to my computer to squeeze out any work I can while my little one sleeps the afternoon away. After naps/school, my children do plenty of “independent play” while I finish up work, which results in a pretty messy house by the end of the night.
At around 5 PM, I make dinner and Tyler gets home from work to eat with the family. After dinner, we try to touch base on life in general. However, nearly 50% of the important stuff is missed because the very talkative children (who just want to tell Dad everything) take precedence!
Tip: streamline communication so you both have access to the same information.
This has been a game changer for us during residency and has allowed us to make time for more weightier matters. I have access to Tyler’s calendar, emails, and important group messages. This may seem like overkill, but when your spouse is tapped out at the end of the day, it’s nice to already know all the logistical and scheduling information you need to know, so you can spend time talking about more important items like parenting and checking in on how you’re both doing. Although this can be a challenge in medical school too, it seems magnified in Residency where our kids are older and we’re adjusting the family to a new area, new friends and new schools…we need more time to discuss important matters.
What are the Pros and Cons of Residency?
#1 - I see my spouse more!
My husband studied a lot during medical school, so I see him more now than I have at any point over the last four years. We selected a family friendly program which was important to me. The training is robust, but not to the point where the residents are overworked. To increase their training hours, residents take on moonlighting shifts (and the money is good, too). This is completely at their discretion and based on their workload/preferences, which is nice. Overall, Tyler has time to spend with family, exercise, and take on extracurriculars in areas he’s interested, like ski patrol.
#2 - Other resident families = immediate friends
Our program is small, so our group of residents is very tight knit. It’s so nice to have other friends who are in your same boat and understand what you’re going through. Residency programs usually have family activities (look for this when evaluating programs) and other ways to connect outside of work. These are wonderful opportunities to make friends. This built-in community of people is a beautiful thing while on this journey.
#1 - Pay is low
In my opinion, Residency is even tighter than medical school because some of the benefits associated with being low-income in med school go away (food stamps, Medicaid, etc.)
TIP: When choosing a residency, consider where you like to put your money and how you’ll adjust to the budget.
In med school, I learned we all spend money differently. Some enjoy traveling, others enjoy a nice wardrobe, etc. In residency, we chose to invest in a home, and we also spend a good chunk of money on our kid’s sports. Because of that, we’ve had to adjust - we no longer buy the expensive cheeses or steaks, we don’t go to the store as much, and “pampering myself” is pretty much nonexistent! Tyler will moonlight at the beginning of Yr. 2 of residency, so we’re looking forward to that. Getting through the first year is the hardest!
Tip: when making the decision on whether to buy or not buy, factor in unexpected home expenses.
Just as an example, our son put a huge rock down our clean out drain and backed up our whole sewer system. Insurance doesn’t cover little boys throwing rocks down the sewer line, so we paid $3600 out of pocket to fix that. With a couple unexpected car expenses on top of that, let’s just say we’re patiently waiting on our tax return this year! 😊
Tip: if you’re thinking finances are going to be tight, look for programs with moonlighting opportunities…and ask if the residents have time to moonlight.
Most programs allow residents to moonlight, but you also need to make sure the residents aren’t too overworked that they can’t take on moonlighting shifts. Moonlighting is an incredible opportunity and not just for finances…residents become better doctors when the responsibility falls 100% on them when it comes to treating patients, so these opportunities are gold in many ways.
#2 - Tyler is out of Pocatello for a total of 3 months.
This is totally program dependent. Because of my husband’s interest in rural medicine, he chose a small program, which means he has to go out of region for three months to make sure he hits his requirements for peds (there just aren’t enough cases in our hospital). This is the biggest downside of the program we’re in. If your husband went away to do audition rotations, then you know what it’s like and don’t worry – you’ve got this!
Tip: if you’re going into family medicine and looking at a rural program, be aware that going out of region is not usually “advertised”.
Remember to dig and ask the right questions! Once we started asking this specific question, we realized that nearly every program my husband was looking at had 1-3 out-of-region rotations.
#3 - Our spouses are no longer in school. This is real life.
This is a pro to some, and a con to others. Your spouse will have patients that pass away in their care, there will be problems with the human body that seem unexplainable and frustrating as a physician, and it’s no longer something they’re reading in a book – they’re experiencing it and they play a role in the outcome. That’s part of the educational journey they’re on and it can be hard! As spouses, we’re here to be their support that can help them through the difficult days.
What’s Your Advice on Paying Back Loans?
Tip: ask about “the presentation” at the beginning of residency.
At the beginning of residency, your program will do a presentation or send out information on how to pay back loans and the opportunities available in your field and area. PAY ATTENTION to this information. Tell your spouse to record the presentation or regurgitate every word of it when they get home. This is important and something I didn’t do with Tyler…big mistake!
Tip: investigate payback programs early. Know your options & have a plan.
You’ll have some free time at the end of fourth year - use this time to look into payback programs and loan forgiveness programs. There are tons of options for family medicine doctors. We’re currently looking into PSLF and other state-specific options, but you’ll want to know what your options are and have a plan, so you can go into residency with one less thing to stress about.
What Do You Wish You Knew in Med School?
Enjoy every minute of the med school journey.
Sure, medical school is hard. However, there is something special about Ivins and the medical school journey because you have a built-in community of people who understand you and what you’re going through – lean into that and make friends! Friends from medical school can be lifelong. When you get into residency, some programs will have a great support group and others will not, but be aware there are lots of other ways to make friends (church, school system, mom groups, work, etc.) And if you haven’t quite found those lifelong friends yet or you’re worried about that, remember this:
Tip: it takes time to make friends!
One thing I like to remember is that it took me two full years of being in Ivins before I found my people. So if there’s ever a discouraging moment in this journey of constant moves from one place to the next, remember that you WILL find your people – it just takes time and patience! Also, sometimes your people are not who you expect they’ll be. Embrace everyone. Find the beautiful and wonderful things about each person you meet…find commonalities.
What Do You Wish You Knew During the Residency Search?
So many things! We were stuck on how to rank programs - I wanted an adventure, my husband wanted to be near family. I wanted warm, he wanted cold. Bottom line is that we were not on the same page!
Tip: consider the program “fit” for your spouse first and foremost…they are there 80+ hours/week.
If I have one piece of advice, I will just say to very carefully consider the “fit” of the program for your spouse. We are in cold, windy Pocatello…and I really thought happiness couldn’t exist in my life unless I was hiking outside in the hot sun regularly. I was not excited to be moving to the cold! However, over the last six months I’ve learned that when Tyler’s happy in his program, he’s happy at home. When he’s happy at home, we’re able to relax and enjoy life more, and we’ve done just that. We swapped hiking for sledding and all is well in the Kunz household. 😊
Tip: residency is temporary. Embrace the adventure!
Remember that you likely won’t be in this spot forever. There is something wonderful to be discovered about every location. Yesterday, I ran in the negatives and icicles from my tears froze to my face to the point where I couldn’t close my eyes. Do I want to do that forever? No! But I could either view it as the worst thing ever, or I could view it as the coolest thing that happened to me that day. If you choose the latter, well…you’ll have more happy days! Enjoy the journey!