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Medical school is not easy. With lectures, rotations, class
exams, shelf exams, and board exams, even remembering to eat can be
a Herculean task; it can really take a toll on you. This is doubly
so if you are in a relationship. Your partner is trying their best
to support you at a point in your life when you simply cannot
devote an equal share of time. He or she might be understanding and
patient, but your insane schedule can affect your partner deeply.
Although there is little you can do to change your medical
curriculum, you certainly can work toward goals that help your
partner to feel appreciated, loved, and equal.
I am by no means a love guru. I have made countless mistakes in
my relationship with AJS and the women I dated before her. However,
I learn from my missteps and try to improve upon them. So, without
further ado, here are the five major relationship strategies that
have kept me from sleeping on the couch for weeks at a time.
I remember a few months back when I went to see two roommates at
a long-term care facility: one had Pick's Disease; the other,
Creutzfeldt-Jakob. It was like hitting the neurology lottery. As
soon as I got home, I threw down my things and started rambling to
AJS about it. I mean, who wouldn't get excited about something like
that? It turns out, almost everyone who isn't in medical school. By
the time I was done with my story, 30 minutes had passed, and I had
yet to even so much as ask her about her day.
Just as we tell our patients not to completely eliminate salt,
sugar, or fat, we should try to moderate the information we give to
our partners all at once. Try to keep your stories brief,
especially to someone who is not in the medical field. They care
about you and genuinely want to know about what you do, but it is
not fair to exhaust them with information. Watch the jargon, too.
It can cause a person who does not know medical terminology to tune
out your tales.
There is one surefire way
for me to see that AJS is less than pleased with me-she rolls her
eyes. She recently asked me if I could squirrel away three hours to
go to a baby shower three weeks from then. I instantly started on
about an upcoming shelf exam and how I have not studied for it at
all. I got the eye roll, the exasperated sigh, and the move to the
next room. It was the Trifecta of Trouble and I earned it; she was
getting pretty tired of listening to me whine daily.
Your partner knows you are busy, and I'm sure that they have
been more than accommodating. They've stayed out of your hair at
the end of each block, picked up the slack with groceries and
household chores, and generally tried to make your home life as
easy as possible. There is no need to continuously remind them
Sundays are somewhat of a sacred day for AJS and I. We have our
routine: sleeping in, a fun activity outside the home, dinner at
one of our favorite restaurants, and an evening stroll through
Philadelphia's Historic District. It is the one day that I put down
the books and enjoy her company as she enjoys mine. This one day a
week is carefree and gives us something to look forward to, as I am
physically and emotionally drained the other six.
Having a devoted day reminds your partner that he or she is
still a significant part of your life and that they are wanted and
appreciated. Even if you cannot spare a whole 24 hours, any
activity that the two of you do with each other can make a huge
impact, especially if you make it routine. Here are some
cost-effective activity ideas: museums, parks, second-run movie
theaters, flea markets, apple picking at the local farm, open mic
nights, bookstores, the zoo, or even paint-your-own-pottery
I've done it all for AJS. I have bought her flowers, chocolates,
cards, and jewelry that I could not afford. She appreciated all of
it. However, none of those things has earned me a thank you e-mail
or adorable text messages to get me through my day. The thing I did
to earn her appreciation was the time I left the house early, as
usual, but took the extra 30 seconds to set up the coffee maker and
turn it on so she could have a fresh cup when she got up.
As I talked about earlier, your partner knows you're busy. Your
partner is there to support you, so return the favor whenever
possible. Simple gestures like making coffee, unloading the
dishwasher, or leaving a little love note before you walk out the
door -without being asked-can make your partner feel remembered,
appreciated, and loved at a time in your life when you may not be
able to afford the time and money to do bigger things.
AJS and I see a couples counselor. This in no way means that our
relationship is a failure. Simply having a third party provides
insight and a safe space to allow us to work out the problems in
our relationship, big and small. During the weeks that we don't
have any have any pressing issues, we use the time to talk about
our lives and our future. Talking freely and openly, and sometimes
fighting, has made our relationship stronger than ever.
Even if you had all the time in the world to devote to your
relationship, there would still be problems. It is important to
discuss them with your partner sooner rather than later. Days or
weeks can go by if you let them, especially with your 12-hour days
on the wards. A small nuisance that can be easily addressed can
potentially become a relationship-ending fissure if you let it
fester like a diabetic foot ulcer. Get it out, and get it over with
before it becomes a problem.
Every relationship is different, and your mileage will vary with
these tips. However, the take-home message is fairly consistent
regarding many medical school relationships: You have someone
fighting in your corner. Your partner cares for you, helps you, and
probably sacrifices for you. It is extremely important for you to
remember that and make them feel like it is worth it. They
Andrew Buchholz, MPH, MSIII
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
School of Osteopathic Medicine, 2013
(P.S. Feel free to send engagement announcements and/or wedding
photos if any of these tips worked for you!)
February 2012 Issue of IMpact
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