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Path to App-iness for single doctors

A 2012 longitudinal study of more than 20 000 physicians by the UK Medical Careers Research Group found that by 25, the rate of doctors in partnerships was far lower than in the general population, yet by age 36, the number of doctors in long-term relationships exceeded non-physicians by more than 10% for women and 20% for men.

Medscape's 2022 Physician Happiness & Lifestyle Report found that 83% were in committed relationships, and even better, happy ones. At least three quarters of doctors in every specialty described their partnerships as “very good” or “good”.

But the question is: how does a single medical student, resident, or attending physician find happiness ever after in 2023?

For many in healthcare, along with millions of others looking for love, the solution is dating apps.

When ‘MD’ is a turnoff

Dr M, a psychiatry resident in California, hadn’t found a life partner during college, grad school, or medical school, and when she passed her final Step 3 board exam, she signed up for some popular dating apps – but her dates followed a disappointing pattern.

“I met lots of guys, but it was incredibly rare to find another physician,” she said. “I found myself always wanting to talk about my life as a resident. More often than not, the guys would give me a blank stare as I complained about being on call or spoke about spending 12 hours a day studying for a board exam…”

Both of her parents are physicians, and she grew up watching them support each other through residency, exams and exhausting schedules. A relationship with another physician, her parents told her, would give both partners the best chance to understand each other’s lives. The problem was how to find one.

That was when Dr M saw an ad for a dating app named: DownToDate, a play on the clinical evidence resource UpToDate.

She signed up and immediately, men began “requesting a consult”, the app’s form of “liking” her profile, and sending her “pages” (messages).

DownToDate was created by another physician, Dr Robin Boyer, MBA, a paediatrics resident in California. The inspiration came in 2020 during the initial Covid crisis. Exhausted from long and often heartbreaking shifts, Boyer was grateful for her husband’s unwavering support. But many of her co-residents weren’t so lucky.

The women, particularly, talked about their dating struggles, the recurring theme being they didn’t feel confident putting “physician” on a dating site profile.

“If you’re male and tell people you’re a doctor, it seems to attracts people,” Boyer said. “But if you’re female, it brings up a lot of stereotypes where you’re perceived as too intimidating either as the breadwinner, being more educated, or having a (demanding) career. It makes it more difficult.”

Boyer met her husband in high school, and had never used a dating app. She convinced a co-resident, Dr Celestine Odigwe, to pursue the idea as a business partner. They began researching the market within their network and heard from more than 1 000 interested physicians, both men and women, heterosexual and LGBTQ+.

They even created fake accounts on other sites to gauge how easy it is to falsify a profile. From these insights, the app took shape. It launched in 2021 and now has more than 5 000 verified users.

Branches from the same tree

Around the same time that DownToDate began, Shivani Shah, DO, a paediatric neurology resident at Duke University, and her brother, Sagar Shah, an entrepreneur, had a similar idea.

Then, Shivani Shah was a fourth-year medical student about to move from New Jersey to North Carolina. Friends who were internal medicine residents described the gruelling reality and isolation of the early Covid pandemic.

“It was horrible,” says Shah. “You were isolated from your family, your support system, everything…. the pandemic pushed us into realising this is a very important need…”

The sibling duo developed ForeverX, an app for healthcare workers to find meaningful connections. It launched in 2021.

Concerned that the medical field was “siloed”, the Shahs opened the app to physicians, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals.

To prevent catfishing, the app uses a twofold vetting system. Users submits a photo of their driver’s licence and a selfie that must match, and healthcare verification. None of the information is stored.

Through personal experience with dating apps, Shivani Shah hopes ForeverX can improve on some of their flaws, particularly the problem of matches being overly filtered by preferences. The “natural way” of meeting people is not filtered, she said.

And while most people have a dating checklist in mind, meeting someone face to face might send some of those prerequisites “out of the window”.

“You can’t really put into words how you feel with someone…the vibe,” Shah said. Which is why her goal is to get people off the app and on an actual date. “Something we’ve discussed internally,” she added, “is, how do we make this experience that's virtual more human?"

She acknowledges that certain requirements, like a desire for children, might be crucial to some users. Many female doctors in their 30s feel the “time crunch” of a ticking biological clock.

Dr Ifie Williams, a psychiatrist in Washington, believes a wider dating pool is key ― provided everyone understands the situation up front. When Williams started residency in 2014, she was single.

She tried many dating apps, but found them time-consuming. Even when she set specific preferences, she had to sift through “matches” that didn’t fit her criteria.

“Dating nowadays has become almost like a second job,” said Williams. “Just the amount of time people have to spend on apps … and then meeting people. You think they’re interested and then you deal with all these games.”

By 2017, Williams had invented Miss Doctor, a dating app connecting female physicians and other doctoral-level professionals with men or women on a similar achievement level.

By definition, these people would not be intimidated by ambitious, busy women. They would be heavily screened and vetted. And one other proviso: they would have to pay for “likes”.

Most dating apps charge a subscription fee. Users are allowed to “like” numerous profiles and perhaps not bother responding to many matches. By contrast, Miss Doctor accounts are free and include a limited number of “likes” to indicate interest. Beyond that, there’s a price.

“We wanted to find a way to make people a more intentional with how they like people on the app, so they give more thought to it,” Williams said. “So, we monetise it and use that to change behaviour.”

After launch in 2017, the app had to take a back seat while Williams started her psychiatry practice and got married. She plans to relaunch it this year.

Male or female, there is general agreement that finding time to date as a young physician isn’t easy.

Boyer believes career challenges are not a reason to give up. “There are so many single and available people out there,” she says. “And everyone’s deserving of love. Even if you only have an hour a week.”

 

Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report (Open access)

 

Medscape article – Doctors and Dating: There's an App (or Three) for That (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Dating app defends HIV-related data sharing

 

AHA flags effects of social isolation on cardiovascular and brain health

 

After the honeymoon: Changing partners doesn’t change relationship dynamics

 

More than 90% of British women doctors experienced workplace sexism

 

Half of women in science and medicine sexually harassed — US study

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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