The Money Meets Medicine Podcast

Physician Side Gig: Worth the Effort?

By Jimmy Turner, MD
Host of Money Meets Medicine

It was a brisk Tuesday morning when Dr. Smith, our seasoned cardiologist with hands as steady as a rock, confessed to me over coffee that his latest passion wasn’t just about the heartbeats on the monitors.

“I’ve got this side gig. it’s completely outside of medicine.”

You see, doctors like him are flipping the script; they’re not just saving lives but also building them—financially and personally—with ventures from real estate empires to online entrepreneurship and even branching into non-clinical careers. They’re trading white coats for business suits after hours because sometimes personal autonomy can be just as vital as an accurate diagnosis.

Is a physician side gig worth your time?  Is making money outside of medicine even possible for most doctors? Let’s dive into side gigs.

Table of Contents:

Exploring the Drive for Side Gigs Among Physicians

You might think that doctors, with their packed schedules and intense workload, wouldn’t even have time to binge-watch their favorite show, let alone manage a side hustle. But you’d be surprised. According to the 2023 Physician Side Gig Report from Medscape, a whopping half of physicians in their 40s have side gigs, and ~39% of all doctors work a job on the side.  This is despite 1/3 of doctors working over 60 hours per week, and the average hovering near 58 hours.

Physician Side Gigs, 2023 Medscape Side Gig Report

Docs aren’t just about healing; they’re after control over their lives and finances too. And it’s not only the early to mid-career docs jumping on this bandwagon—30% of physicians over 70 also make money outside of medicine. So why do physicians branch out? It boils down to two words: financial freedom. More succinctly, it boils down to autonomy.

Financial Freedom and Autonomy as Primary Motivators

Dreaming of escaping from mountains of student loans or going part-time in medicine without flinching at the cost? That’s where side hustles come into play for many docs looking beyond clinic walls for wealth-building opportunities. It’s all about carving out autonomy in an often rigid medical world. Why the focus on autonomy? It turns out that a lack of personal and professional autonomy is one of the largest contributors to physician burnout (you can read more about my thoughts on physician burnout here).

Disability Insurance for Physicians

 

This yearning to be in control does not lessen with age; if anything, it intensifies. Imagine practicing medicine because you want to, not because you have to due to financial constraint—that’s what drives even docs of all ages to pursue non-clinical income outside of medicine.

The idea is simple yet powerful: work hard now so later on you can live life on your terms—whether that means sipping Mai Tais on a beach or volunteering without worrying about income gaps. Docs are diagnosing themselves with a case of ‘I need options,’ and treatment involves diversifying income streams stat.

The Most Popular Medical-Related Side Hustles

When doctors look beyond the exam room for extra cash, there are a variety of ways to make money using your medical expertise. Around one in four physicians are venturing into medical consulting, which is unsurprising given a physician’s extensive experience with the intricacies of healthcare. You’re already an expert at navigating the complex world of healthcare, so advising on it is a no-brainer.

Medical Consulting – A Natural Extension of Clinical Expertise

Imagine swapping your stethoscope for strategy sessions; that’s what some docs are doing with medical consulting gigs. Whether this is in venture capitalism or an advisory role for a healthcare company, this side hustle lets doctors flex their clinical muscles in new ways—like helping companies develop better healthcare products or guiding hospitals on how to improve patient care.

Antoher example includes pharma companies who are itching for insights only someone who’s been knee-deep in patient care can give. And let’s not forget startups looking to disrupt health tech—they need seasoned pros like you telling them if their next big idea will sink or swim.

Expert Witness Work – Capitalizing on Medical Knowledge in Legal Arenas

Diving into expert witness work is another way docs stay close to medicine—a solid 18% have taken this route. Here they stand as beacons of truth in courtrooms, translating med-speak into justice-speak.

A physician might break down complex medical jargon so that a jury gets it. You aren’t always brought to a courtroom, though. A lot of expert witness work involves case reviews provided to a legal team.  If your findings don’t support their side, they are unlikely to call on you again, but part of the expert witness side gig is being willing to be deposed, if necessary.

As a side gig, expert witness work can be lucrative, too. I know doctors who charge $500 per hour to provide their expertise to legal teams who need the help.  If deposed, they may charge more. In addition to the financial incentive, it also encourages physicians to dive into their literature, thus encouraging an up-to-date knowledge of your field.

Diversifying Income Through Non-Medical Ventures

For doctors, making money using your medical expertise is not the only way to create financial freedom through side gigs. Many eye real estate to create non-clinical money. [It isn’t just real estate. There is a wide list of physician side gigs that doctors explore.]

Real Estate Investment – Building Wealth Beyond Medicine

Real estate provides appeal for many docs, because there is zero correlation between your income as a physician and this completely separate source of money. Just think about it: while you’re making rounds, properties can be appreciating in value or generating rent that could allow you to go part-time or reach financial independence sooner.

Money Meets Medicine, Jimmy Turner, Justin Harvey

 

Beyond buying property directly, physicians also have options like REITs, where you can own a slice of commercial real estate without getting your hands dirty with actual bricks and mortar. This is how I personally invest in real estate, though some call this “real-estate flavored index funds,” and dont consider this a true real estate investment.

Stock Market and Other Investments – Passive Income Opportunities

If playing landlord isn’t quite your style, maybe real estate syndications sound better. This is where a group of investors come together to invest in a real estate opportunity.  While this doesn’t provide the same tax incentives that can be found through Real Estate Professional Status or the Short-Term Rental loophole, it does provide exposure to real estate without being a landlord.

Whether you are a landlord or invest more passively in real estate, the purpose is not putting all your eggs in one basket. Spread out your investments. You might:

  • Mix things up with passively managed index funds or ETFs with some portion of your portfolio.
  • Invest in real estate with another portion.

Warning: The above notwithstanding, I am not a fan of putting all of your investments into real estate.  This lack of diversification has been known to come back and haunt people.

Understanding Legalities and Employment Agreements

You’ve got the smarts, you’ve put in the hours, and now you’re a doc with a side gig game plan. But hold up—before you jump into that sweet side hustle life, there’s some legal fine print to sort through. Your employment contract is like the boss level in your favorite video game: tricky but not impossible to beat.

Your contract might have more clauses than Santa has helpers, so it’s crucial to comb through it with an eagle eye. Look out for non-compete agreements or conflict of interest or committment policies that could cramp your style outside of clinic hours or intellectual property terms sharper than a scalpel. That app idea you’re brewing? It might legally belong to your employer if you’re not careful. The standalone infusion center you are considering? That might be considered competition.

To dodge potential legal headaches later on, get clear on what’s kosher per your contract when it comes to making money outside of your employer. Some employers are chill about letting doctors run side hustles—as long as they don’t steal spotlight from their day job—while others may want a slice of any pie you bake using skills honed on their dime.

If legalese isn’t exactly how you enjoy spending coffee breaks, consider roping in someone who gets kicks from reading contracts for fun—a lawyer specializing in employment law. They can help make sure your weekend warrior consulting work doesn’t end up costing more than just sleepless nights over missed Game of Thrones episodes because let’s face it—you didn’t do all those years of med school just to accidentally sign away rights worth gold.

Setting Goals for Side Hustle Success

Before you jump into your scrubs-and-spreadsheets routine, let’s talk goals. Because as they say in medicine—and pretty much everywhere else—without clear targets, you’re shooting in the dark.

Financial Freedom and Autonomy as Primary Motivators

According to the Medscape survey mentioned above, over 50% of docs pursue side gigs to make more money. Yet, most earn less than $30,000 doing so, and this is despite spending around ~240 hours per year on their side hustle.

Disability Insurance for Physicians

 

So, before you put more work into a side project that makes less per hour than picking up extra shifts, get clear on the purpose behind the hustle. Are you trying to go part-time?  How much will that cost you? That is how much side income you need. Is this purpose to get to financial independence sooner?  How much do you need to accomplish that goal?

Above all, decide early on whether this is something you consider a job or a hobby. Otherwise, you will make the classic mistake of creating a “Jobby” you will later abandon.

Key Takeaway: 

Set clear goals to hit the mark with your side hustle—think financial freedom and calling your own shots. Whether it’s medical consulting or courtroom expertise, docs are diversifying into real estate and stocks too. Don’t just be busy; be productive—and make those numbers work for you.

 

Physician Disability Insurance

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