The Body Problem: Part Uno

Jan 28 2011 Published by under Dual Career Issues

Those of you looking for advice on hiding the bodies, be disappointed. This post does not feature corpse disposal, nor body image issues. As my husband and I approach our third move in academia, I will explore what has been so lovingly dubbed "the two body problem."

The Book, available on Amazon with a click

Lisa Wolf-Wendel, Susan B. Twombly, and Suzanne Rice even titled their book The Two-Body Problem: Dual career couple hiring practices in higher education.

Their study examines the practices, formal or informal, and resources available to academic couples. It seems men and women seeking advanced degrees often marry each other and may even want to (gasp!) reproduce and live in the SAME HOME. They surveyed institutions across the US, and present their results in a formal, academic way. If you want scientific data, get their book.

In contrast, I plan to ramble in a completely informal manner about our personal experiences over the course of a few blog posts - or at least until I get bored with the topic.


Hubby and I met during our time in the BA/MD program at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Most of the students in this program entered fresh out of high school, and my class, at matriculation, boasted 51 women and 49 men. My eventual spouse entered school a year ahead of me, so he graduated in 1984, approximately 6 months after we got married. He then went off to residency in Chicago, a city with multiple acceptable programs in Pediatrics, my chosen specialty. We believed I would get into one of them the following year, and things worked out that way.

We were still starting and finishing at different times, so he planned a research year in 1987-1988. That way we would start our fellowships together at the University of Minnesota. Our daughter came along in the autumn of 1987, and from then on we planned to live at the same address. Call us old-fashioned, but having both parents in the household felt important.

The fun began the final year of fellowship. My specialty, pediatric nephrology, is pretty much limited to academic medical centers. I hoped to have a funded research lab eventually. My spouse lost interest in basic science during his fellowship. Not in the theoretical sense; no, he still reads relevant cellular and molecular literature to this day. Training with a PI who said (in a manner not tinged with regret) that he really did not remember his children between birth and college graduation may have tainted Jim's opinions. The guy also tended to micromanage; lab meetings were at 5 pm on Fridays. My husband's interests ran to the clinical, patient-oriented spectrum, something his advisors did not necessarily appreciate or advocate.

I began sorting through acceptable available positions for myself. I interviewed in 3 places, only one of which had a job in town for my husband. He ended up in private practice at a large community hospital with its own residency program. He became involved with teaching the housestaff, and he worked on clinical research proposals with faculty at the two academic medical centers in St. Louis. In the meantime, we had our son, I published papers, and eventually the grants got funded.

Time for a Change

In 1997, medicine faced many economic challenges. As my institution developed practice plans, I realized that substantial pay cuts were in my future. To get Medicaid HMO contracts, we were seeing patients for $0.33 for each dollar billed. At that rate I could see kids in clinic 24/7 and never recover my salary and costs. The initial draft for research faculty did not reward one with "at risk" salary until you recovered 110% of your salary on grants and contracts. How did you do that legally?* They also presented no incentive plan for those of us pursuing the "triple threat" career path. My spouse also felt like a move might be in order. He clearly yearned to teach more and to organize clinical studies of his own.

Husker Time!

Once again, I began to check out the open opportunities in pediatric nephrology. The most reasonable place seemed to be the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Jim explored a couple of private practice opportunities, but ultimately he convinced the division of endocrinology at the medical center to take him on.

We both thrived. I had great collaborators at UNMC, and the hubby developed skills in clinical research. He also built a diabetes center from the ground up. His team worked hard to improve both comprehensive diabetes care and inpatient blood sugar control for patients not previously diagnosed with diabetes.

Time Flies

Thirteen years have passed since we moved to Omaha. Our daughter now has paying job in another city, and our son will graduate from high school in May. We thought another move might be in the works, and we chatted about looking around in the spring of 2011.

A phone call in 2010 sped up these musings.

Next Post: Tales of the Trailing Spouse

*Someone finally came to their senses, and the final plans worked out fine for those who stayed. I believe they finally got their draconian contracts fixed as well.


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