by Michal Montana, M3 at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB)
Medical school is often described by administrators, physicians, professors and medical students themselves as a “selfish” time in a medical professional’s life. We are encouraged to be “selfish” and focus all our efforts on school and nothing else. I initially entered medical school with that mindset because of the influence of those around me. Yet as I progressed, not only in my medical career, but in my personal, spiritual, physical and emotional life, I found that to be horribly wrong. Instead of being selfish, I am learning how to prioritize school and my relationships.
Let me start off with a quick introduction. My name is Michal Montana and I am a M3 at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB) in Metro Detroit. I was born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA and attended undergrad at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA (needless to say I love that beach bum life). Since the age of 8, I have been set on becoming a physician, and have structured my academic life around achieving that goal. My motivation is found solely in my faith in Christ and my dedication to medicine is centered around the ability to serve others as Christ served us.
My medical career started out with a cross-country move – from San Diego to Detroit. What this meant was that I was choosing to move away from all of my favorite things to pursue a dream I had dreamt of since I was little. I left the salty beach air, the phenomenal Mexican food, my amazing group of friends, my dear family and most of all, my ever-supporting boyfriend. Ryan, my now-husband and then-boyfriend, has known from the start that medical school was my priority and that meant I would move anywhere in order to pursue that dream. So as I moved we decided that we would do long distance, not TRY long distance but DO long distance. For us, that made all the difference. We made it a point to believe in our relationship instead of just seeing how it would go. Maintaining a long distance relationship two years ago was difficult but doable. It was by far one of the toughest parts of our relationship (besides the 5 weeks of dedicated STEP time). I struggled with prioritizing him into my crazy study days. He struggled with what it looked like to support me from 2,000 miles away. And we both struggled with finding the best way to communicate – heck, we still do, that’s marriage! I can honestly say that without his understanding and loving character I don’t know if we would have been able to make it. It was in that challenging time in our relationship that I knew for sure that I wanted this man by my side for the rest of my life.
We got engaged on spring break of my M1 year. I went home for a week, and at our alma mater, along Sunset Cliffs, he popped the question. That was in March. And we decided to get married in August. I know you girls may be thinking I was crazy to plan a wedding in a little over 4 months, and it was crazy, but with the demanding schedule of med school, we decided that having our wedding between M1 and M2 year was our best option. So as I finished up my first year and started to plan a wedding from across the country, I learned to largely rely on my friends and family for assistance. My parents and one of my bridesmaids were pivotal in the success of our wedding. They did everything from look at venues, check out food options, research rentals, pretty much everything except try on dresses. During my summer off I still managed to do research in orthopedics, work with a cardiologist, plan our wedding, commute back and forth from San Diego to Orange County, go on a trip to Yosemite, and surf as much as I could. So don’t worry, just because you are planning a wedding or married doesn’t mean you have to drop everything else! You can do it! My life was chaos for a bit, but so worth it. We got married on August 1st, 2015 and immediately had to drive out to Michigan in order for me to start school on August 10th.
Starting off our marriage in my second year made it a little easier because I knew my study routine. Our school does organ systems for second semester of M1 year and first and some of second semester for M2 year. Since I had already established my study routine for organ systems in my M1 year, the transition into marriage and living together was much easier during my M2 year. Two months into our marriage we decided to get a puppy because a) they’re adorable and we looooove dogs, b) we have opposite schedules often and we each wanted something at home when the other was gone, and c) I wanted to train a puppy to be a therapy dog in the hospital. So we added another stressor into our life and it was totally worth it. We are constantly striving to learn how to not completely put our life on hold just because I’m in school. I am overwhelmingly blessed by having a man who supports me, understands our current life situation, and does his best to help me as much as he can. He cooks, cleans, grocery shops, and will do anything for our marriage. As he sacrifices daily, I also have to sacrifice my study time to grow in our relationship. It is a series of daily decisions that I am learning how to manage, but never is it a burden. Without him, I could manage, I could even thrive, but with him I am able to reach my goals and have someone to share every exciting moment with. During dedicated STEP time he did EVERYTHING for me, which was amazing. But this was also the most difficult time in our marriage to date. I was stressed studying 18 hours a day. He was stressed working a full-time job and doing everything around the house, including taking care of our pup (who decided that dedicated time was the best time to tear our couch apart). Needless to say, tension was high in the Montana household. There were many nights of tears, hurt, and disappointment. I would be frustrated if the house wasn’t cleaned to my expectations. He would be frustrated by having to do everything while I stayed home and studied. But through forgiveness and constant prayer, we were able to learn how to best love each other in times of ultimate chaos. I had to learn to let go of having things my way and extend grace. He had to realize that although he is the one providing for us now, I am working toward being able to provide for us in the future. Understanding those things allowed us to see each other in a different light and manage our frustrations better. If you ever want to test a relationship, get married, move to a place that is winter for half the year, get a puppy, attempt to train said puppy, and take STEP all within a matter of months – you’ll be pretty confident that you guys can get through almost anything after that. As I am starting my clerkships we are re-evaluating what our relationship will look like in the next year. I still have to come home and study, my hours are not consistent as I switch rotations and my husband is starting up a new business. Again, we are just learning how to have fun during the chaos, enjoy where we live during the chaos, love each other through the chaos, and stay firmly rooted in our faith during the chaos.
Now this is by no means a guide of how to be married. All this is is an encouragement that it is possible to maintain deep relationships in medical school in spite of the stress, long hours and competition.
We have found that the key isn’t to be balanced. You can’t be balanced. Balance means spending equal time on each aspect of your life and as some of you may know from being in med school already, school takes up the majority of your time. Instead, you have to prioritize. You have to be able to discern when to put the books down and spend time with your significant other. But this doesn’t come without a cost. Without a doubt I spend less time studying than some of my other classmates and sometimes I feel disappointed in myself. And when I think hard about why I’m feeling so bad it always comes down to this game of comparison that we humans always resort to. Stop comparing yourself. Trust me, it’s not helping you and it’s not helping your significant other either. Once you start comparing yourself to your classmates you focus on what you’re NOT doing instead of what you ARE doing. You may not be studying, not be involved in every interest group, or not be traveling during breaks because your spouse has to work. But you are spending time with your best friend, you are being fulfilled through your relationship, and you are sharing the beauty that medicine has to offer with your favorite person. You can’t start letting resentment creep into your relationship because when push comes to shove your significant other is the one taking you away from reading First Aid and UpToDate all night and it’s totally worth it. I believe that each person should constantly be trying to learn how to prioritize his or her life in a way that does not make you look back on your four years of medical school and regret them.
One common comment I hear in school is that “I’ll wait for a serious relationship when I have the time for it” or “I’m just way too busy to invest in someone else.” The tough part is that there really never is an ideal time. After med school is residency – which is crazy. After residency is starting a practice – which is crazy. And by the time you are established as a physician you might look back on the past 7-15 years (depending on what you decide to go into) and think “why did I put a hold on my life for so long?” I have found that it’s not about having the time – physicians rarely ever have “free time” – it’s about learning how to make time. Right now I am just learning how to put my husband first and still be a dedicated, mindful, knowledge-seeking student. This is preparing me for our future in which I will strive to put my husband and children first, and be a compassionate, intelligent, hard-working physician.