Friday, June 24, 2011

on being the wife of a medical student

Over a week after I asked my friends to weigh in on their experiences being pegged as a stay-at-home doctor's wife, I think it's finally my turn. Warning: this post ended up longer than I expected. So if you want nothing but funny videos and a picture of Ike, scroll to the bottom.

My experience might be unique, it might not. In the town we live in, medical professionals are everywhere. Example: when it comes to bar dress codes, scrubs are almost as popular as Affliction t-shirts. Stethoscopes peek out of purses at Starbucks. In yoga, the pre-class chatter revolves around Step 1. And on top of it all, I work at the medical school. My father-in-law works at the medical school. 75% of dinner table conversations revolve around medicine, the medical school, people at the medical school, etc. Sometimes it feels like my entire life revolves around something that, quite frankly, I'm not interested in except on the most basic of levels.

This by itself kind of makes me feel like an outcast; like I should be part of the community. And believe me, I've had people ask me what I do, and then ask -- almost accusingly --, "Why aren't you in med school?"

I majored in advertising in college (which should be a good enough explanation of why I'm not in med school). On the first day of class, we usually had to introduce ourselves and tell why we majored in advertising. A lot of people simply shrugged and said, "it had the least required science credits." I share that sentiment. But the real reason I majored in advertising?

It's embarrassing.

It has to do with a Mel Gibson romantic comedy.

That's right. I saw the movie What Women Want, and thought, I want to do what they're doing. Also, isn't that the little girl from Growing Pains? How old am I?

It turns out it was a pretty good fit - I really enjoyed the creative process that led to advertising campaigns. And I wasn't terrible at it. But my senior year, we had a huge final project that doubled as a national competition. Our product was a locking mailbox. (The year before us had Coke and the year after us got something equally fun. We got... a locking mailbox.)

If you can't read the text... you'll be okay. It's incredibly boring. Because it's an industry ad for a LOCKING MAILBOX.

During a lesson in presenting our ad campaign, our professor told us, in what seemed to me like complete seriousness, "You have to sell this idea. If one of your co-presenters keels over with a heart attack in the middle of your presentation, push them out of the way and finish. your. pitch."

I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. They warned us in school that any ad agency we would end up working at would be hell compared to the environment at school. If my teacher was this serious, I finally got a sense that the general attitude in the advertising world was even more so. SELL YOUR PRODUCT OR ELSE.

I decided that I couldn't do it. But it wasn't long until I discovered the concept of social marketing, which uses the principles of marketing and the same processes I loved so much in advertising to change behaviors for social good.

When we moved here, I did what I thought would be the closest thing to experience for that specific niche:

1) I enrolled in a Masters in Public Health program (to better understand behavior change theories and all of the social problems in the world)

2) I took a job in health communication - the big sell was that I would be on a team that creates a nationally distributed series of guides focusing on living with certain chronic diseases.

(I didn't realize it also involved catering to medical students by picking up bakery treats for their small groups and ensuring that some of their lectures went as smoothly as possible. I don't mind doing this -- are you kidding? I would never complain about having to enter a bakery-- but occasionally it does make me feel even more like there is absolutely nothing in the world as important as being a medical student.)

ANYWAY. A few weeks ago I was in Tampa taking a 5 day intensive course on social marketing, where we learned how to create campaigns like this one:

and this one:

By the way, when I explained in that course that my undergrad degree was in advertising and my masters was in public health, it was suddenly like I was the most qualified person in the room. That has never happened before. People usually look at me like this:


  1. I can relate to the outcast feeling, but in a different way. Since I'm not married or having kids, I get that "oh, why aren't you married or having kids?" look. Nevermind that I watch and follow sports for a living, travel around the country, get to go to championships and bowl games and the Olympics, I'm apparently an old maid at 27. Ha.

  2. First off, thanks for having us - I had so much fun reading over the guest posts because I could relate to aspects of all of them!
    I get that exact look when I tell people my major - International Studies. I'm one of those people that picked a major based on the courses (I didn't want to be bored) and didn't think of what I would do AFTER I graduated. I'm still figuring that whole thing out ;)

  3. OK, I know this is my third comment now, but I feel like we are soul mates or something. My undergrad is in journalism/public relations and my masters is in health innovation/change leadership. But so often I feel like I never have anything to contribute to the conversation since well, you know, I'm not a doctor. Once you hit residency, you can count on ALWAYS being in the company of at least 3 doctors at all times.

  4. Cristiana - Did you get that attitude in Chicago too? I was sure it was a Southern thing!

    Tiffany - I can't wait :/ That probably means not only is there nothing to contribute to the conversation, but you probably only understand 5% of it!