Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jennifer Frank, MD: Making friends, Part 1

Since moving three years ago, I have struggled to make good friends. Sure, my husband and I know people, attend parties, and discuss the best place to host a child’s birthday party with other parents in the bleachers during Saturday morning basketball at the Y.

However, what I’m lacking are my own friends. Girlfriends that I call on a Saturday morning to grab a cup of coffee and go window shopping. Kindred spirits that gossip with me about husbands, bosses, and family strife. I know lots of women, but few are friend material.
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I have a lot in common with my professional colleagues — they understand the struggles and joys of being a physician, often wrestle like I do with parenthood, marriage, and a job, and share my interests in science, medicine, and humanity. However, they are also busy like I am. When we do get together outside of a professional role, conversation may be stilted or lead too easily to discussing patients and workplace aggravations.

Another group is moms of my children’s friends and classmates. Because my husband is a stay-at-home dad, he knows these women much better than I do. It is he — not me — who is invited along on their “girls’ night out.” I really like many of these women but it is hard to plan times to get together because our schedules are reversed — daytimes are freer for them and evenings and weekends are better for me. It is also challenging to navigate a relationship with a woman who has more in common with my husband than with me.

I work with a lot of women in my family medicine clinic — receptionists, nurses, administrative staff, and resident physicians. However, in my role as medical director and faculty physician, I find it hard to be friends with women I supervise. My very few forays into this area have inevitably led to sticky situations in which I am laughing with a friend at the gym before work in the morning and then having to give my friend difficult feedback later during the work day.

Old friends are great. I still keep in touch with women I have known in grade school, high school, college, medical school, and residency. They are scattered across the country from Boston to Alaska, Michigan to Texas. We have a history and fabulous memories to share. That makes it fun to get together when I happen to be in town for a convention or when I send them a message on Facebook. But, it is not enough to hold a close friendship together, the kind of friendship that lends itself to spur-of-the-moment phone calls and drop-in visits.

I meet women through other venues, such as teaching Sunday school. We are friendly but not friends. They have kids of different ages and have different interests and different schedules.

I am blessed to have a best friend, someone who knows the intimate day-to-day details of my life. We have much in common — she is a family physician, has four kids and a stay-at-home husband. The times we get together in person are wonderful and she is the type of friend I can call anytime day or night. But, she lives far away and I still long for friends close by. So, my quest continues to find, establish, and nurture friendships with professional moms like me.

Jennifer Frank, MD, FAAFP, is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and a faculty family physician at the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program in Appleton, Wis. She is a mother of four, whose husband, also a physician, is a stay-at-home dad.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly how you feel. I have not had a true close friend who lives within hanging-out distance in over 15 years. I've had laughs with residents, secretaries and nureses. We've gone out after hospital functions, had lunch together, even facebooked. But it's not the same. The women of my neighborhood are either stay-at-home moms or earthy-crunchy-alternative-medicine people. They're nice, and we chat while the kids play together, but I would really call them close friends. I wish you luck in your search. My husband has been my best friend. Only problem is, i have no one to call when he's the problem LOL