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Long-Distance Relationships While Training

By: Casey A. Cable, MD, MS

This post is a part of our Life as a Fellow blog post series. This series includes "fellow life lessons" from current trainees in leadership with CHEST.

Well, here I sit, on a plane (again), mid-flight, as I start to write this blog. I am visiting my husband who lives in a different state for the all-too-short weekend. Our situation, known in some academic and medical circles as the “two-body problem,” occurs when both partners in a relationship are career focused and end up working (and often living) in separate cities, states, or even countries. The expression alludes to the insolvable three-body problem in orbital mechanics; and just like this famous problem, it can seem impossible to find a solution to your own two-body dilemma.

Long-distance relationships during training are a challenge, I know, but they can absolutely work. It is becoming increasingly more common that trainees pursue programs away from their significant others. No matter where your significant other is located during your training, there are ways that can make it easier and give you more time to spend with them.

Plan and Work Ahead

Being productive and planning ahead is important on a variety of levels. It can be difficult to be productive when traveling; I know firsthand. But with the right mindset and a few simple changes to your routine, you might be surprised how much you can get done while en route. 

It’s important to realize that travel is not a vacation (unless it actually is, then turn your computer and phone off and enjoy!). I recommend setting small goals. I bring papers to read while on the plane, and I had the CHEST SEEK™ Library on my phone when I was studying for the boards. Also, make a plan you can realistically achieve. It can be hard to make a presentation or work on a paper early, but if you do, that can give you more time with your loved one when you see them. Work in segments.         

Create your workspace. Use headphones to avoid distractions. Find flights that offer Wi-Fi, so you can access email and papers online.

Schedule travel plans far in advance…as far as you can! This not only gives you both something to look forward to, it can provide you with sufficient time to get clinics cancelled. Planning ahead also allows you to rearrange weekend call schedules so you can maximize any time off with adjoining free weekends. Also, flights tend to be cheaper the further out you buy. Credit card points and airline miles are also your best friend.

Communicate

Talk as often as you can. Sometimes a quick “hi, miss you” or “this hilarious thing just happened…” call or text makes all the difference and keeps you both connected. Keep time zones in mind—maybe you can take 1 minute to call your loved one when they first wake up, or to say goodnight as they head to bed. Use other ways to communicate such as video chatting. My husband sends me pictures of our pets, typically doing something awkward.

It is temporary!

Remind yourself that this is only for a limited period of time, and there is an end. You are receiving great training where you are, you made the right decision, the sacrifices you and your partner are both making are worth it, and it will pay off in a successful and happy future.

Casey CableCasey is a third-year fellow at Emory University and will be staying an additional year to complete a Masters of Clinical Research (MSCR). She graduated from Florida State University College of Medicine having done a year at the NIH under the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as a research fellow. She trained in internal medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Her research interests include sepsis and ARDS.