Five outspoken spouses dish about stress, sacrifice, and those (nonexistent) bonbons.
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How’s this for reality? We put five New Jersey women together in a room to reveal their deepest feelings about the one thing they all have in common: being doctors’ wives.
Although divorce rates among physicians are reported to be 10 to 20 percent higher than those in the general population, you wouldn’t suspect it after spending time with these New Jersey Monthly Top Docs’ wives.
They are independent, outspoken, funny, fiercely supportive of their husbands, and happy to be partners in long-lasting marriages. All five women happen to be involved in health care—three help run their husbands’ practices as office managers, one is a school nurse, and one is an internist who practices medicine part-time while raising three young children.
During a 90-minute ladies’ luncheon at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park, we spoke with Dawn Chevinsky, wife of Dr. Aaron Chevinsky, a surgical oncologist in Morristown; Susan Clemente, wife of Dr. Roderick Clemente, a neurosurgeon in Montclair; Anne Franzese, wife of Dr. John Franzese, a gastroenterologist in Chatham; Isabelle Latimer, wife of Dr. Edward Latimer, a psychiatrist in Montclair; and Dr. Susan Rubino, wife of Dr. Robert Rubino, an obstetrician/gynecologist in West Orange.
For these five women, being married to a busy physician isn’t a bitter pill—it’s just what the doctor ordered.
NJM: Let’s talk about how you met your husband. Did you grow up wanting to marry a doctor?
Isabelle Latimer: I actually did. My father is a doctor, and I wanted to be a doctor myself. But I didn’t have, as my father said, the buns to go through medical school, so I became an accountant instead. I met my husband at a discotheque and, when I found out he was a medical student, I said, “This is him.”
Dawn Chevinsky: I didn’t consider it either way. When I met my husband, I recently had gotten into nursing school and he was going into medical school. What I didn’t realize was how many years it would be before we would actually settle down and have a family.
Susan Rubino: I was in medical school when I met my husband. He was my resident in ob-gyn, and it was one of those resident-dating-a-medical-student things, so he’s ahead of me four years in his career. I originally wanted to become an ob-gyn, and as I advanced in my education and he went on to his work, I changed my focus because I knew we were going to get married—and two ob-gyns in the same household wouldn’t make for an easy lifestyle. So I went into internal medicine, which is a little bit more reliable as far as being able to schedule things.
Anne Franzese: We met in college. I’ve been with my husband from the trenches up—college to medical school to residency to the MCATs and the GI boards, so I can be supportive. We had some friends who met after their husbands became physicians, and they had a more difficult time adjusting to the lifestyle. Not that I was looking for a doctor per se—I just fell in love.
Susan Clemente: Exactly—I feel the same way. I wasn’t looking for a doctor. I didn’t have expectations of life as a doctor’s wife, just as a wife. I married someone I loved and respected.
NJM: So you’ve each married a successful physician. How does the expectation compare to the reality?
Chevinsky: Most doctors work twelve to fourteen hours a day, then they do night calls, they do weekend calls, so they’re always available, which makes it difficult and challenging. In social situations, some people have asked my husband for medical advice.
Latimer: I didn’t realize it was going to be as hard as it is. I had no idea how lonely it could be at times. Thank goodness I have my children. When they were young it was very difficult, because you spend a lot of time alone and your life gets disrupted all the time with the midnight phone calls, and incidents where patients actually come to the house.
NJM: Some of you are involved on the business side of your husband’s practice. How does this affect your marriage?
Clemente: I’ve been working in my husband’s practice for the last eight years as the office manager, and I love it. His life is not office-based, since he’s a surgeon. It’s not like we’re in each other’s faces all day, because he’s not always in the office. I think it enhances the marriage, because we do talk about work when we’re at home, and we enjoy it.
Chevinsky: I used to work with my husband as an office manager, and then he joined a group. Three years ago, I started working as a school nurse. He doesn’t discuss patients, but I can tell when he comes home whether he’s had a hard day or not, just by the stress on his face.
Latimer: I actually work in the office, and psychiatrists are on call 24 hours a day. When my children were little it was a bit difficult, but I think now our relationship is fantastic. We work very well together.
Franzese: I had another career initially, and then I was going to be a stay-at-home mom until my husband decided to open his own practice. I can take one day off to do home stuff. We have a reliable staff, so I can leave at 4 when I need to be home for the children’s activities.
Rubino: I don’t have any formal role in my husband’s office. I’ll see husbands of women that he takes care of, so we have some mutual patients, which is nice. We’ll share information. He may call me with questions, or I may call him about certain things. And we’ll read the New England Journal of Medicine together and talk about that. We’re such nerds!
NJM: Of which of your husband’s professional accomplishments are you most proud?
Clemente: For me, the thought that my husband can open up somebody’s skull and know what he’s doing is just amazing.
Chevinsky: It’s the amount of time he puts in professionally for underserved people that are unable to afford medical care. He’ll get referrals, and the person doesn’t have insurance, and he takes it no matter what. He also works at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center—people just walk into the clinic and he gives the same level of patient care.
Latimer: That’s what I admire most about my husband’s accomplishments. He doesn’t turn anybody away. In psychiatry, coverage is minimal to begin with. He takes Medicare and would never turn away any older patient, even though you don’t get a lot of reimbursement with Medicare patients. Because he speaks Spanish, we also get a lot of referrals from the inner city, and he will see them as much as he can and for what they can afford.
Franzese: I think it’s just the way that my husband is as a physician. I was at the bank the other day, and the teller happened to recognize our last name, and he said, “Is your husband a physician in Chatham? Well, he’s wonderful.”
Rubino: My husband, when he first started, was a solo practitioner. He bought a practice from a retiring physician, and he has grown it over the years into a six-doctor, soon-to-be four-office practice, and he’s learned the business of medicine, and really kind of conquered that. After twenty years, he still has the same enthusiasm and the same dedication to people. He’s not gotten tired of it, and I’m really proud and happy that he still enjoys his career.
NJM: How does your husband’s specialty affect how he relates to others personally and socially?
Franzese: Well, there are a lot of GI [gastrointestinal] jokes out there!
Latimer: As a psychiatrist, my husband can make walls talk. It’s just amazing. He walks into a room and it lights up. And he’s great with jokes.
Clemente: People, when they think of a brain surgeon, get intimidated. But my husband is a down-to-earth, normal guy, and very, very easy in company.
Chevinsky: Since my husband is a surgical oncologist, he is extremely caring, very patient. He’s really been a wonderful role model for my children. My son is a neuroscience major and my daughter is in a combined medical program.
NJM: Let’s talk about stereotypes. Does your husband spend a lot of time on the golf course?
Franzese: He wishes he could.
Latimer: My husband is always on the ski slopes. After 9/11, he pulled back. He was devastated by 9/11. Mondays and Thursdays he has off all morning. He does work from 1 o’clock until 8 or 9 at night and takes Friday off, because that’s when he skis.
Rubino: My husband will say, “I don’t have the time for golf. I’ll pick up tennis, I can do a quick hour.”
Franzese: My husband is always in the hospital doing procedures initially, and starts office hours around lunchtime, but when you tell patients what his schedule is, they say, “Is he playing golf first?” You always have to defend him, saying, “No, he started at 6 am!”
NJM: Another stereotype is the doctor with the giant ego. Does your husband play God at home?
Chevinsky: My husband is very humble. Anything that’s given to him, anything he works for, he appreciates.
Franzese: And they feel stress because they want to make the right medical decisions. They don’t feel like they’re playing God—they’re conscientious.
NJM: Speaking of stereotypes, what is the most common misconception about being a doctor’s wife?
Latimer: That we sit in front of the TV, eat bonbons, and get manicures and pedicures, and have a whole house full of maids and butlers.
Chevinsky: But we’re actually the ones bringing the kids to any activities, school functions, and school programs.
NJM: So have you had to sacrifice your own personal sense of fulfillment to be a doctor’s wife?
Latimer: My husband is my biggest fan, and he’s always pushing me to accomplish whatever I want to do. He will be the first one to praise the work that I do in the office. He’s constantly telling people he works for me. Without me, his practice wouldn’t be what it is today. And I enjoy it. I do feel that I’ve been able to do a lot.
Rubino: It’s no small thing to have a happy marriage and happy children and a happy family life. And if you can create that, despite your husband being a doctor, and if you can have a career of some sort alongside that, that’s great, too. But just to have a happy home life and a happy marriage—I don’t know what more fulfillment we could want.
Chevinsky: I went out to California with my husband because he was given an award for starting an interdisciplinary program at Morristown Memorial Hospital. I was there with my children. They called him up in front of thousands of people. I started to cry, knowing what he has done, what he has accomplished. I am in awe. I look at my husband and I think, “Oh my God, I’m so lucky to have such a nice person who cares about his family and cares about his work.”
Rubino: Don’t you also feel that we support them to do it? Would they be as comfortable and happy spending those hours away if they couldn’t completely trust that we can handle the things that they can’t get to, to sort of absorb their stress?
Clemente: They are also supportive of anything we’re doing. It’s not like all the focus is directed on them. Whatever’s happening with the kids at home, or in your own life, they’re there for you, too. So it’s not just that we’re making their lives easy and pleasant. It works both ways.
Franzese: And that’s not based on the fact that they’re physicians, it’s their personalities. We’ve chosen good partners, we have good marriages, and our priorities are where they should be.
NJM: Do you have any tips for reducing stress in your marriage?
Rubino: I think that, as we age and share things together, you see the toll that the stress is taking on them: the gray hair, things that happen with age—hopefully no blood pressure issues. We also focus on each other’s health more—exercising, eating well, healthy living. Taking a break for family time, making sure we’re keeping perspective.
Clemente: Just spending time together, not necessarily in the house.
Franzese: They do need a break from the office. You can see when the stress level is building that he needs a couple of days away.
Latimer: My husband has figured out a very good way to do that. On Fridays, he has consciously decided, “I need to take the day off.”
Chevinsky: My husband is very lucky that he works with so many people in a group. He’s very fortunate that they’re all competent, excellent physicians that he trusts with his patients, and that’s a big deal when you have someone that you need to rely on. Everyone covers for each other, and it’s wonderful.
NJM: What is your general approach to your children’s health?
Clemente: I think that all depends on your personality. I’m not quite as hands-on in the sense that I don’t worry about every little thing, but it’s nice knowing that if I notice something, I can ask my husband.
Rubino: Initially, I’ll take things pretty easily when one of my children is sick. I’ll watch them, I’ll feel comfortable doing the first observation, but if they need intervention, I never will treat, and my husband will not treat. We leave it to their pediatricians.
Franzese: I’m more lax about it than my husband is, because I’m like, “Toughen up, you’re okay. Unless you have a fever or a stomach issue, you’re going to school!”
NJM: Do you consider your husband’s expert knowledge of human anatomy to be a perk to you, personally?
Rubino: (Laughing.) Oh god, I have the ob-gyn husband!
Chevinsky: My husband is very aware that I should go for certain examinations and to be followed up—for preventive care. That makes a difference.
Rubino: It’s a good thing. During my three pregnancies, it was wonderful. My husband was reassuring, saying, “Pregnancy is not a disease, it’s a healthy state.” When my son was born, my husband was in the room, pacing, looking at the monitors, checking what the nurses were doing, watching the IV drip—he was really restless. I had to say, “You are not the doctor, you are going to be the dad! This is your time to experience what you see all the time.”
Latimer: Being a psychiatrist, my husband is much more attuned to my feelings. He doesn’t try to analyze me, because if he did, I’d kick him!
NJM: What is one piece of advice you would share with a young woman who’s considering marrying a doctor?
Franzese: Understanding. Support.
Chevinsky: You have to be supportive because this is his career, this is his profession.
Rubino: You have to find your own fulfillment, whether it is your children, or your home, your friends, your hobbies, a career, whatever it is. I think that’s true for any woman, whether your husband is a doctor or someone who travels a lot for his job. You have to be able to be happy on your own.
Clemente: You just need to be aware that you may have a lot of time to yourself when a medical emergency happens, and you can’t do things together. Just knowing that ahead of time makes it easier to deal with when it happens.
Rubino: Take two cars to events!
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