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The Rise of the Physician Side Gig

By Dr. Brian Dixon

|Jul 10, 2019

In an increasingly competitive healthcare landscape, doctors face two stark choices: either become an entrepreneur or work for a large American hospital system.

Due to systemic changes and structural requirements, doctors are increasingly choosing the latter. But it may be to their detriment.

As of 2016, less than half of all doctors owned their own practicefor the first time ever. Becoming a private practice physician is fraught with all the same pitfalls that every other entrepreneur faces: staffing, money, time, branding, space.

It’s hard to start a business, and even harder to survive over time.

The basics of running a business are the same. At the very minimum, you’ll need to invest in paying for a website, staff, incorporation fees, legal advice, and advertising.

But speaking as a psychiatrist with my own private practice, for me, it’s all been worth it. That said, I know I’m fortunate that I don't have the intensive equipment and furniture requirements of my medical counterparts.

Burnout and the side gig

According to Medscape’s 2019 report, 44% of physicians report feeling burned out. The top reason they reported for feeling burned out? Too many bureaucratic tasks such as charting, paperwork, etc. (59% of respondents)

Hospital chains are consolidating into larger and larger conglomerate systems. At the same time, many physicians are impeded from starting their own practice because of the type of medicine they practice. The structural requirements of many medical settings have increasingly led doctors who are burned out to move into practicing telemedicine.

Other physicians are increasingly turning to the "side gig." Like the gig economy, some physicians are eschewing the full-time employment role for the compartmentalized approach.

Why? To achieve financial independence and freedom from working in these large, industrialized hospital settings.

Do doctors have time to have a second job?

The short answer is: it depends.

Some physicians keep their toes in the traditional setting—practicing medicine to keep the protection of a steady salary, health benefits, licensure, and/or retirement perks. But they also branch out to explore income-generating opportunities, medical and non-medical alike.

Some options for generating extra income don’t require much of a time commitment, so many doctors opt for things like investing in passive income streams or hiring someone else to manage their side gig.

Most work is a commodity after all—so if your side gig can more than cover the cost of hiring an assistant, ghostwriter, property manager, etc., then you might consider that option as well. Outsource to build your empire.

There are a lot of approaches to diversifying one's income portfolio. An entire cottage industry has grown to meet the desire for more information.

One such group, Physician Side Gigs, was started by Dr. Nisha Mehta on Facebook. This Facebook group has now grown to 25,000+ physicians and is now a stand-alone spinoff website.

Physician side gigs listed on Dr. Mehta’s website include: real estate, telemedicine, writing, speaking, podcasting, medical surveys, coaching, direct sales, chart review, investments, product creation, expert witness, and “miscellaneous.”

Other people in the space recommend being a Locum Tenens physician (filling in part-time as needed at a hospital), creating an online course, starting a blog, investing in a healthcare startup, or getting into the short-term rental market through Airbnb or VRBO.

Though many side gigs have a significant startup cost such as investing in real estate or purchasing a franchise, other options don’t require as much cash to get started. So whether you’re still paying down student loans or if you’re a veteran physician, there are some interesting options to explore as you consider diversifying your income streams.

Physician "side hustles" have become an area of great interest. Coupled with prudent advice on how to tackle debt quickly and invest early you have a potential recipe for financial independence—and hopefully decreasing rates of burnout.

Yes, there are still issues with income inequality—even within the ranks of medicine. But if you can own your livelihood, you'll be more in control of your career and life.

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About the author

Dr. Brian J. Dixon

With accolades spanning my career as a child psychiatrist, entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker, I advocate for a more sensible U.S. healthcare solution that appeals across all party lines. I am a Texan, born and raised. My psychiatry practice, Progressive Psychiatry, is based in Fort Worth.

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