Dual-Doctor Dilemmas with the Darkos

crispydoc Uncategorized 4 Comments

In a recent binge of catching up on podcasts, I caught the charming trauma surgeon (yes, it's the first time I've strung those words together) Dr. Nii Darko hosting one of the most vulnerable and memorable podcast interviews I've heard him conduct - with his wife, the equally impressive OB/GYN Dr. Renee Darko.

I met the doctors Darko at FinCon 18, where I was impressed by their formidable entrepreneurship (they both hold MBA degrees), their work ethic as overachievers (each has started a business and authored a book), and the genuine affection they have as a couple. Each brings out the best in the other, and it shows.

Deja Vu

Part of the pleasure of hearing this particular podcast, entitled, "My Wife Hates My Locums Schedule," was the experience of hearing the very same dual doctor, parent of a young child conversations and negotiations I'd gone through with my own wife nearly a decade ago. At the time, our daughter was in diapers, our son not yet born, and my wife had recently started her business.

I can vouch that these sort of conflicts arise as part of young family life with two working spouses, regardless of the locums component.

Starting A Business Is Like Having Another Child

The Darkos' situation is more complicated than ours was: although they have one son, he has three "business siblings" competing for his parents' time and attention: Nii's podcast Docs Outside The Box, Renee's business helping nontraditional medical school applicants, and their locums company. There's also their blog, Keeping Up With The Darkos.

Each business venture is the equivalent of raising another child. It takes a ton of time and effort early on to birth it and tend to its at times tenuous survival, but if done right it can create an independent source of income downstream. To be young and muster that energy again...

Every Dual Physician Couple Can Learn From Ni and Renee

The conversation was a delight to eavesdrop on, and it hit all the deliciously recognizable notes of conflict that surround navigating work-life balance, over-packed schedules and and two ambitious medical careers.

Similar to my physician-spouse, Renee shoulders greater responsibilities for child-rearing and household logistics, and in turn has a lighter clinical load. Nii's more intense clinical schedule has him absent from family life for longer periods.

Renee (and my wife) expressed concern that the night shifts were exacting a toll on the other partner, and reservations that such brutal scheduling should continue despite the financial benefit from maintaining it in the short-term.

Avoid The Landmines

One segment in particular resonated with me, which was when Nii and Renee were discussing how hard this year was turning out to be on her end.

Renee expressed reasonable concerns about the toll that Nii's aggressive work schedule was taking, and how difficult it had been to anticipate what that would feel like. Nii reminded Renee that she'd signed off on this - they both knew it was going to be hard, it would be to their collective benefit in the long-term, and he was in the right in following through with their agreement.

I once attempted to make this argument. I don't any more. The reason is that I concluded:

  1. Everything is up for renegotiation at any time when one of you is suffering.
  2. Your spouse always gets veto power when it comes to your work life.

My rationale? For my long-term happiness, I'd rather be married than right.

I hope this unsolicited advice (worth what you pay for it) is taken in the spirit it was intended, from one guy who got lucky and married up to another in the same situation, in the hopes of making our good fortune last as long as we are able.

Comments 4

  1. I love the concept of any business is treated like having another child and that your biological children have “business siblings.”

    Also very smart about how anything is up for renegotiation because even if your spouse originally signed off on it if his or her mind changes after actually going through with the plan then it becomes a factor.

    Great topic CD

  2. Pretty cool that they were able to be so authentic and honest about their situation and struggles to balance it all. But interesting ending re: the response to concerns about the workload – kind of a slap in the face!

    I agree with you, CD, I want my wife to know she has veto power over everything. But I realize this is based on two underlying truths: 1. I know she will not abuse that power, and 2. I value my marriage over everything else.

    1. Post

      They completely reminded me of my wife and I a decade ago.

      I misrepresented the situation if it came off as a slap in the face. I think it was a natural, “Hey this plan is a taking a toll on all involved, but let’s see it through as agreed.” It was less blowing off a concern than a gentle reminder that, “Come on, we both agreed to try this.”

      It’s hard when you have stretched yourself thin for a shared goal to have your partner suggest the cost may be too great to warrant completing the task, especially for docs used to delaying gratification and pulling off the impossible. Your two underlying truths are exactly right – trust and prioritizing the relationship’s needs over common financial goals (even when you dove into a plan thinking the latter was a form of supporting the former) are key.

      It won’t matter how quickly you killed debt or built wealth if the cost was the health of the relationship.

      My wife and I were working full-time, and it was a moment when we saw one another across an intersection – I was driving home from a night shift, she was heading out to a day shift – that we realized this was not the life we wanted to be leading, even if it helped build our nest egg and save up for a future downpayment on a house.

      They are a terrific couple, and it’s incredibly generous for them to air their debates publicly so we can borrow from their conflict resolution toolkit.

      1. Fair enough – I wasn’t trying to be critical. Even if the tone hadn’t been gentle, I should be the last person to throw stones given my share of verbal missteps! Kudos to them for their openness.

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