Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.
A few years ago, I decided to start a business outside of my day job as a physician. I still remember my father’s reaction when I told him about the project. “You’re a doctor,” he said. “Focus on being a doctor.”
I think he was worried that I was simply tossing aside all those years of education and learning. I assured him that I had no plans to leave medicine — I just had this itch to pursue other interests as well. It’s not like I’d have to choose one or the other, anyway. I felt I could do it on the side.
Well, that little side business started to grow. People started calling it my “side hustle.” The income it provided started to grow. I then began to create additional streams of income, including real estate investments as well as my blog, Passive Income MD.
My father practiced medicine in a different time. Even he will admit that it’s far different now than it was when he was building his practice. In fact, he believes that the profession has undergone more changes in the last 10 years than in his entire 40-year practice.
The pathway used to be clear: study hard, work hard, and you’ll be rewarded with a good life.
The Need for a Side Hustle
Unfortunately, those same rules don’t seem to apply to physicians today. We all know some of the reasons, like out of control student loan debt, changing regulations and reimbursements, and shaky job security, just to name a few.
However, it’s not just physicians that seem to be affected. Other professions have had to adjust and even completely change the way they do business. The rules have changed, and so have people and technology. We simply can’t expect to practice and thrive the same old way.
I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes wish for those good old days. Now, I see physician burnout rampant and many physicians looking for a way out. Just step into your doctor’s lounge on a Monday morning. The conversations aren’t the most cheery and optimistic.
As a result of this ever-changing landscape, physicians are actively looking for solutions. We’re problem solvers, after all. Many physicians just like myself are adding extra sources of income in one way or another.
The reasons for this are different for each person, but there are a few reasons that seem to be universal in this profession. Here are a few examples of why and how physicians are jumping into side hustles.
The financial life of a physician is not the same as it was even 20 years ago. To the outside world it might seem the same, but we all know it’s different.
Rising student loan costs, higher cost of living coupled with lower salaries in high-demand areas. . . it all puts financial stress on physicians. There’s also the matter of getting settled financially later in life, which makes saving toward retirement a challenge. We simply start later than our non-medical peers.
So, some of us look for extra income to support the lifestyle we’re looking for. Many of us are finding ways to use our medical degree for that extra income including picking up case reviews, doing medical surveys, working in telemedicine, and even consulting on the side.
Physicians are looking for extra income elsewhere (maybe investing in real estate for that passive income) in order to reduce their dependency on medicine. When you don’t have to rely on your day job to survive financially, it not only provides extra peace of mind, but it helps you enjoy that day job more.
Scratch That Creative Itch
People often look at doctors as one-dimensional characters. Sure, we spent most of our time and energy focused on becoming a physician. But it doesn’t mean that physicians don’t have any other talents or interests.
Many of us just don’t actually have the time to pursue their other interests. But there are some who are doing it well and getting paid for it. That’s a double bonus.
These physicians are doing very creative side hustles, like writing, creating plays, designing furniture, and creating/perforning music.
It’s fun and it’s a nice change of pace to use a different side of the brain. It’s an outlet for a lot of people — perhaps even therapy.
The money a side hustle can bring in is great, but there’s definitely something to be said for the creative outlet they can provide.
Diversification and a Financial Hedge
I’ve learned that medicine doesn’t have the job security people once thought. How many of you have known someone who had to find another position quickly because of a private equity or new health system takeover? Or perhaps known someone whose clinic they were employed in was simply shut down?
I’ve also heard of situations where contracts weren’t renewed and physicians were asked to either take a 30% reduction in salary or find another position. Sure, considering the physician shortage we have in our country, there is always a position to be found. But will it be where you want to be?
No one wants to uproot their family and leave their community if they don’t have to.
So, many physicians understand the importance of building up multiple streams of income. They do this as a hedge, so they’re diversified. When you invest, do you put everything into one stock or one single investment? Probably not. So why put your family’s financial security into one job?
Many physicians are learning how to use side hustles to create additional income. This allows them to work how much and when they want.
Many create businesses, many again create passive income through real estate. Whatever the method, having true financial security is extremely beneficial.
Planning Their Exit
Again, we all know that physician burnout is a real issue. But the reality is that many doctors feel trapped. They know they can’t just leave their current positions; their financial situation simply doesn’t allow it.
As a result, many build up a side hustle or two to allow for an eventual exit out of medicine. It might not happen immediately, but they know that over time, it’s possible to create that financial freedom from medicine.
The great thing is, having the peace of mind that financial security brings, as well as the ability to work how you want (mentioned earlier), can reduce the symptoms of burnout and help you enjoy your job more.
Side Hustles are a Beautiful Thing
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a huge fan of the side hustle. Why? Mainly because of one word: choice. Having a side hustle that creates income outside of medicine helps you to create the ideal life within medicine. In fact I started documenting some of them and created a list of physician side hustles.
If you want to work part-time, additional income from a side hustle could allow for that. Want to stop working altogether? That option is there as well. Want to change positions, see fewer patients, stop working nights and weekends? That choice, too, could come with income from side hustles.
I know many physicians who continue to practice even when they’re financially free, simply because they’re passionate about medicine. Isn’t that why we went into it in the first place?
Again, it’s all about having the ability to choose.
I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position I am, and I attribute that to my side hustles.
It’s funny, you know what my father asks me now whenever we get together? “How are those businesses coming along?”
Dr. Peter Kim is an anesthesiologist from Los Angeles and the founder of Passive Income M.D., a website dedicated to helping physicians achieve financial freedom through multiple streams of income. In addition, he is the founder of Curbside Real Estate, a company that helps physicians and other health care professionals with the purchase of their residential homes by providing education on the process as well as connecting them to trusted realtors and mortgage lenders. Peter can be found on Twitter (@passiveincomemd) and Instagram (@drpeterkim).