Hospital Marriage Proposals: The Good, The Bad, The Helipad


                                                             By Alexandra Frost

Picture your marriage proposal fantasy. Do you see a beautiful beach at sunset? The place where you first met your partner? Maybe a dream vacation — Paris, anyone? And perhaps most popular of all…the ER?

Why not? For some couples who share medical careers, the hospital is home, and they turn the moment into something just as romantic as any Eiffel Tower backdrop. (And admittedly, sometimes they don't.)

Since we're approaching Valentine's Day— often the #1 day of the year for engagements — lovestruck healthcare professionals take note. There are good ways to do it and, well, ill-advised ways. We spoke with three couples whose medical-themed proposals ended in the word "yes!"

Heaven on the Helipad

When emergency medicine physician Anna Darby, MD, heard a trauma patient was arriving and urgently needed to be intubated, she raced up to the rooftop helipad. As soon as the elevator doors opened, she was met with quite a different scene than expected. There were rose petals…lots and lots of rose petals.

With her best friends and colleagues lining a red carpet, the roof had been turned into a scene from The Bachelor. Each person gave her a rose. A friend even touched up her makeup and handed over her favorite hoop earrings, transforming her from busy doctor to soon-to-be fiancée. Her boyfriend, cardiologist Merije Chukumerije, MD, stood waiting. You can guess what happened next.

Chukumerije later wrote in an Instagram post, "We met at this hospital. So, it was only right that I bring her to its highest place as we've reached the peak of our union." The couple actually met in the hospital cafeteria "like all the clichés," Darby jokes. For them, the helipad experience was just as Insta-worthy as any braggable, grandiose proposal at a fancy restaurant or on a mountaintop.

"Seeing that scene was totally not what I expected," Darby says. "I can't even describe it. It's like the second biggest hormonal shift, [second only to] having a baby." She and Chukumerije now have two babies of their own, aged 2 months and 2 years old.

Good Morning, Doctor

It was February 2021, the height of the pandemic, and Raaga Vemula, DO, now in her palliative care/hospice care fellowship, was "selected" for a local news interview on COVID-19. Except the interview was really with Good Morning America. And the topic was really a proposal.

Vemula met Steven Bean, DO, now doing a sleep medicine fellowship, in 2015. "I first saw her, and thought she was one of the prettiest women I'd ever seen. …We ended up being in the same study group," he says. "Let's be honest, I applied to every med school she applied to."

Six years later, Bean connected with GMA through The Knot, a wedding planning website and registry. The made-up interview request for Vemula came from the residency program director, who was in on the surprise. Vemula's family also knew what was up when she called with the "news."

The live broadcast took place at the hospital. Bean had an earpiece for the producers to give him directions. But "I was so nervous, I walked out immediately," he says. He ended up standing behind Vemula. The mistake worked well for viewers though, building anticipation while she answered a COVID-19 question. "We got everybody excited," says Bean. "So, when they said 'Raaga, turn around' it worked out perfectly. She was confused as hell."

Luckily, Vemula loves a good surprise. "He knows me very well," she says.

For her, the proposal was even more meaningful given their background together. "Medicine means so much to both of us and was such a big part of our lives," she says. "That's what shaped us to do this. …I think in our hearts it was meant to be this way."

Who Says Masks Don't Work?

Masks conjure up feelings for anyone living through the pandemic, especially medical personnel. But for Rhett Franklin and wife Lauren Gray, they will always symbolize of one of the biggest days of their lives.

At their favorite dog beach, as the sunset gleamed on the water, Franklin pulled his mask out and took a knee. He can't recall what he said behind that mask. "It was kind of one of those blackout moments." But Gray remembers for him — "You said 'Let's do this.'"

Warning Label

Everyone has different tastes. Some healthcare professionals have taken the medical theme farther than these couples — maybe too far. A few have even faked life-threatening emergencies, showing up in the ER on a gurney with a made-up peanut allergy reaction or a severe injury and then pulling out a ring.

But who's to judge? For some, thinking your partner is "dying" and then learning you've been tricked might not conjure up the warmest feelings. For others, apparently, it's a virtual bouquet of roses.

A Few Proposal Pointers

If you're planning to pop the question, this group says, "go for the medical setting!" But according to them, there are other must-haves to get that "yes" and the lifetime of wedded bliss, of course:

Make it a hospital-wide morale-booster. "Everyone loves surprises," Bean maintains. So, why not bring your colleagues in on the conspiracy? "Involving coworkers will strengthen relationships with their work family by leaving lasting memories for everyone," he says. "In a busy medical setting, it's usually unexpected, so it makes it extra special."

Have a backup plan. As healthcare professionals, you know that schedules get in the way of everything. So, practice that flexibility you will need as a marriage skill. When Franklin's first two engagement locations fell though, he says, it was important to adapt and not panic when things went awry.

Seize the moment. Think you can't get engaged during residency? "Planning a proposal during intern year of residency is totally manageable," Vemula says. "That way as residency progresses and you have more time, there is more time to focus on the wedding planning." But she cautions that, "wedding planning during the intern year would be quite difficult."


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