By Robyn Abree
It was the fall of 1968 when Drs. Barbara and Richard Schuster, then freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, caught one another’s eye in their second week of biology class.
Four years later, the two ambitious pre-med students married and have been together ever since.
Their story is what American dreams are made of; two intelligent, good-looking people fall in love, get married and become successful doctors. But Barbara Schuster, now the campus dean for the GHSU-UGA Medical Partnership in Athens, says the relationship had a few bumps. It required a lot of patience and even more comprise, she said.
Their first compromise was to go to med school at different times. Richard Schuster chose the medical school and Barbara Schuster, who was teaching high school science at the time, applied to the same medical school a year later. They decided to go at different times so “that we could have time to get our marriage going and become more independent from our parents,” said Richard Schuster, now a professor at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.
Ultimately, their plan worked and now —nearly forty years later —their story continues but with a twist. Instead of being two love-struck college kids balancing time together and schoolwork, they’re teaching them.
Maggie Kent, a firstyear medical student at the medical campus headed by the female Schuster, and her boyfriend Dylan Lovin, a second year, are the 2011 versions of the younger Schusters. The two met in January 2009 in a laboratory at the UGA College of Pharmacy where both were undergraduates studying how certain drugs affect different types of cancer. It’s a “nerdy introduction,” says Lovin, but its one he and his girlfriend believe “makes perfect sense.” Like the Schusters, the young couple agree that comprise, patience and time management are key factors to sustaining a healthy relationship as full-time med students.
“Sometimes it’s not fun to not sleep and stay up all night studying for a test,” said Kent, “ but knowing that’s what he’s doing too and understands is nice.”
Lovin says that sharing the same grueling schedule, though it comes with its share of challenges, has actually helped their relationship. “I think commiseration has brought us closer together,” said Lovin.
But above all, Lovin says that his most important role as a second-year med student is to mentor his girlfriend through her difficult first year.
“I feel like it’s my obligation to fulfill the role as both someone to support her and someone to give her advice because this is the exact same thing I had to deal with last year,” said Lovin.
Lovin’s classmate, second-year Paul Baker, says that having common interests has helped his relationship with his boyfriend of six months, Max Futral. Baker says that because Futral is studying to be a paramedic, he has an “understanding of the time commitments that face health care providers.” As such, Baker says their relationship works better than other’s he’s been in, where his partner didn’t understand the demands of medical careers.
Time management can obviously be a pitfall for partners when one or both is in medical school. That’s why Justin Brooten, a second-year medical student at the GHSU-UGA partnership, and his wife, Amy Brooten, have come up with an unorthodox way to keep tabs on one another. Because her husband loses himself completely in studying, Amy Brooten makes him set a timer on his phone so that “he’ll remember to look up and say ‘hi’ every once in a while.”
As silly as that may sound, Justin Brooten says it’s just one example where “you’ve got to get creative and show that you care” when you’re med student in a committed relationship. Amy Brooten, who is pretty busy herself as a graduate student in counseling, agrees with her husband.
“Communication and organization are so important so we can stay connected and close together emotionally,” said Amy Brooten. “If we don’t, that’s when I start to feel like, “Who are you? Are you my husband?”
For couples who have demanding careers like Amy and Justin Brooten, Barbara Schuster said that once again, cooperation is key. “As you grow in your career, you have to make decisions as a couple,” she said. “Some you have control of, and some not so much, but they are all decisions and comprises you have to be willing to take.”
Love & Medicine
By Jessika Boedeker
Being a medical student means- continual studying, sleep deprivation, and surviving on the fastest food and snacks they can find. Medical school is so demanding, so crazy at times that normal life is left behind. This is what young men and women go through so that others will someday say to them, “Yes, we trust you with our lives.”
The sacrifices involved in surviving this ordeal can include not having a partner, or even a friend, and having instead, well, loneliness.
For medical students at the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) – UGA Medical Partnership, the ultimate goal is becoming a good doctor. But as any good doctor will tell you, finding balance in life is also important. Medical students struggle to balance what they love with who they love.
Even under the best circumstances, being in a relationship is difficult and demanding. And being in a relationship with a med student? Well, that’s even tougher.
“I’m married to my wife, I’m not married to the medical school,” said Justin Brooten, a second-year medical student at the partnership.
Future doctors looking for love may find that the chances are better if they look beyond the walls of medical school. “I like us having different interests because there is always something to talk about,” said Amy Brooten, who has been married to Justin for more than three years.
“Plus I have learned so much about the body since Justin started school. I’m not a big science person but it is really interesting,” she added.
The expression “opposites attract” has been in use for centuries. Research has shown that people who are different from ourselves are novel and exciting, which makes them attractive. When wildly different people find a way to function as a couple they sometimes become more-well rounded, or they simply give one another the space to pursue separate interests.
“I think getting involved in different activities adds a dimension to your relationship because if I’m working or studying a lot I want Steven to be able to do the things he enjoys when I can’t spend time with him,” said Anna Bunker, a second-year medical student at the partnership.
Med students and the people who love them say that time management is essential for maintaining a successful relationship. Chris Wilson, whose girlfriend is in her second year of med school, complained that he hardly sees her even though they live together.
“It’s important to be intentional. You think if you just get done with this part then I’ll have more free time. But that’s not the case. You have to make the choice to stop even though you aren’t finished and intentionally spend time together,” said Anna Bunker.
People who are in relationships with med students also have their own lives to lead, of course, which means stresses and frustrations that follow them home at night. “I’m studying counseling and sometimes it’s hard not to bring home those emotions,” said Amy Brooten. “I have to try and not take it out on Justin.”
There is more to communication than just talking. When two individuals of any type can communicate their feelings, opinions and expectations effectively, they can make a relationship work.
“I understand that things change, don’t expect them to be able to hang out the same day every week, but when you all do have time take advantage of it,” said Wilson, who has been with his med student girlfriend for over three years.
Once today’s medical students survive four years of school and the rigorous, even more sleep-deprived years of internship and residency, they will look back and realize that they didn’t do it alone. “I’m glad they spend as much time studying as they do because it’s going to make them better doctors,” said Wilson. “If I saw a bunch of medical students not studying I would be concerned.”
As a patient we forget that doctors are people and need balance in their lives just like the rest of us. When a patient walks into a doctor’s office he or she are expecting their attention, reassurance and advice. Those expectations are usually met, and perhaps the training wasn’t that in med school, but rather, the compassion learned outside of the classroom while balancing a profession with a relationship.