Thriving CommunityThere’s a countdown going on among the intern class. In less than two weeks, they hit the road for spring break, and it’s clear how much they’re looking forward to spending time with their friends and families. With this in mind, I’d like to return to the discussion of the realities of clinical year. Or, rather, what the families and friends of each intern do for the 12-month residency that completes the Master of Acupuncture training.

Prospective students ask all the time how students with families and familial responsibilities manage moving to Gainesville and getting through the clinical year. For some students, getting the time off from work and family to attend the intensive sessions during the first two years of the program is the hardest part. But for most, it’s the year-long commitment of working in the on-site acupuncture clinic that influences their decision to attend the Academy most. And everyone handles the situation differently. Here are some of the most common ways to manage family and clinic during the last year of the acupuncture program.

If you’re one of those students whose sole responsibility is yourself, the transition is much easier. Choosing your housing may be your biggest challenge, and there are plenty of affordable options (living along, or rooming with a classmate, etc.) depending on your preferences. And most pets make the transition to Gainesville relatively easily, too (did I mention there’s a dog park in town? It’s a great way to meet people, or possibly recruit patients). That doesn’t mean that leaving home and your friends behind is easy. It simply means that there are slightly fewer factors to take into consideration when it’s time for clinical year. If you’ve been living in the same place for some time and have an established community, it’s hard to leave that community even for a year (no matter how fast that year goes). But luckily, you have a welcome place to visit on break and eventually to return to.

For those of you with partners, kids, or family members that you’re caring for, you may have some harder choices to make.

If you have a partner, what do they do for an entire year while you’re away? The answer to this question depends on the partner’s job. Can they work remotely? Those who can, will actually come to Gainesville too, renting out their homes for the year, or putting their things in storage.  In this way, couples can share the year together, and it’s refreshing for the intern to be able to come home and share their day with their partner. Again, this path depends on the flexibility of the partner’s job, but it is a possibility to consider.

Those partners who can’t work remotely or take a year off, visit as often as they can. No one in a committed relationship wants to be apart for a year, but those visits are very sweet respites during a crazy year. I’ve seen a number of surprise visits on anniversaries that have brought tears from anyone who gets to see the reunion. It’s not the same as being together continuously, but, for some students, not having their partner with them allows them to focus on their work in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I know some interns who felt like they had to do it on their own. That doesn’t mean they don’t miss their partners and that the upheaval is easier.  So it’s important to keep the end goal constantly in mind: remember there is a very good reason you’re doing this.

I’ve seen entire families move to Gainesville so that the student-parent can attend clinic. That’s right. The entire family, partner and kids, moves. Gainesville is an exceptionally family/kid friendly town. Kids go right into the school system and there are a lot of after-school activities to take part in. It becomes a family adventure. And I love hearing kids talk about being proud of their parents’ endeavors.

On the surface, it almost sounds easy, to just bring family along. But I won’t sugar-coat it. Uprooting everyone is hard, and it means that your kids and your partner have to make new friends in a new community while you’re ensconced with your cohort. Additionally, having your partner, or your kids with you, can add a significant amount of pressure. You have to constantly juggle the roles that you’re playing. It’s hard, but I’ve watched families make it work. Jumping into the Gainesville community is the best way to combat homesickness. Kids can be incredibly supportive, even if mom or dad isn’t as available. It depends on the willingness of each family member to do what’s best for you and your family.

For those students who are single parents, it’s their support system that becomes essential to their success in clinic. Some have family members who stay with their children and then they go home as frequently as the schedule allows. This works best if home is close to Gainesville and the travelling distance requires a car and not an airplane. Most single parents, though, bring their children with them (some even end up staying in town after graduation). As a student once told me, it’s not easy, but it comes down to finding members in the community whom you trust. Getting your child into an activity and meeting other parents, or meeting the parents of your kids classmates is the key so that you have people you can turn to. Support is there if you look for it. And you shouldn’t forget about your classmates. Students whose older children  come with them will sometimes babysit the younger children. And it has happened where I’ve walked into the student lounge in the afternoon and seen kids quietly coloring, or chatting away with their parents’ classmates while mom or dad is treating a patient. The more flexible you and your kids can be, the easier the year is.

Again, I didn’t say it was “easy,” I said it was “easier.” The point here is to show that you have options, and that there are many students in situations similar to yours who have had very, very successful clinical years.

The hardest situation that I have come across is when students are caregivers for their parents or other family members. It’s not really a question of bringing them with you and asking them to be flexible. If you’re within driving distance and they are not solely dependent on you, there are ways to arrange one’s clinical schedule so that going back and forth most weekends is possible. I’ve seen one or two students do this, but it is much harder than any other scenario because there really is no downtime at that point. And there are plenty of weekends where you won’t be able to go home for the entire weekend.

In the end, the best advice that I can give prospective students is to be flexible and realize that many obstacles to the clinical residency are only as insurmountable as one makes them. It’s also important to remember that timing is everything. Sometimes, you have to be patient and wait for a better window. We welcome all prospective students to talk with the Admissions office about their family situations and concerns for clinical year. We can put you in touch with graduates or current interns in similar situations so that you can hear a first-hand account of overcoming the obstacles.

I’ve seen students with infants successfully finish clinic, watched whole families enjoy a year in Florida while mom or dad is in class, met many supportive partners during visits, and enjoyed seeing the interns come back recharged from break because of the quality time they’ve just spent with friends and family. A few months ago I wrote about how it’s really the people in our students’ lives who support them through the program, and I reiterate that here. Love and support can mean more to mental fortitude than having the natural ability to be a good student. So while figuring out what’s best for your family while you’re embarking on your dream, the best way to approach the obstacle is to think of your family as your support system, and not your obstacle. Chances are, they’re willing to do whatever they can to see you succeed.

And to the families and friends of our students out there, we thank you for loaning them to us during their training. We know that you, too, are making sacrifices, and we appreciate all that you do!