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Side Hustles: Good Ideas, Bad Ideas, and Lawsuits Waiting to Happen

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There is a lot of interest among doctors in earning auxiliary income, either through extensions of their medical career, through investing, or through entirely new ventures. There are entire websites and online groups for discussion of physician “side gigs.” Sometimes these enterprises are just for enrichment: after 20 years of looking into people's ears, you might want to learn a new skill or scratch an entrepreneurial itch. More often, they represent a way out of clinical medicine for frustrated physicians. Suffice to say, the reasons are many, and the solutions are complicated.

In this article, I want to talk not just about the ways you can increase your income, but about the ways you can’t—and the ways you shouldn't.

(A note: Side gigs fall in two categories: those that use the medical skills you got in training, and those that don't. For example, I don't think selling skin products is a “doctor job” because you don't have to be a doctor to do it. For my purposes, I am going to assume you want to use your hard- earned training and medical knowledge in your side gig.)

Nice work if you can get it … but you won't get it:

  • Physician Coach

The American Urological Association has an entire periodical devoted to the business of medicine and ensuring urologists get paid fairly (American Academy of Pediatrics, get on your horse). They recently published an article on physicians leaving the field early. In it, they profiled four former urologists who are now all—wait for it—physician coaches. Now, I have lots of respect for physician coaches and I have even worked with one myself (Dr. Maiysha Clairborne). But we can't all become coaches because if we did, we wouldn't have anyone to coach.

  • Bestselling Author

Doctor and bestselling author Siddhartha Mukherjee recently wrote an article for the New York Times about how he and his medical school colleagues were able to avoid burnout by becoming translational researchers, highly specialized specialists and … bestselling authors. I will give him a point for mentioning a family physician who has created his own niche in HIV care, but take a point away for recommending a career path that is open to almost no one.

So, instead of hoping for an impossible job, how about a job you already know how to do:

  • Practice telemedicine.
  • Do chart review.
  • Provide expert witness testimony.
  • Start a private practice or concierge practice.
  • Become an expert in some aspect of your current practice and then open a practice focused on that (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder management, anyone?).
  • Do home visits.
  • Become the medical director of a nursing home or hospice.
  • Be more productive or negotiate a higher salary at your current job.
  • Do some locums.
  • Write or teach.
  • Invent a medical gizmo.
  • Go to work for pharma (but if you do, please disclose it).
  • Start a business as a nutrition or sleep or first aid expert.
  • Become a consultant for end-of-life planning.
  • Be a team doctor. (Okay, we can’t all do this one either—but it’s so cool.)

The point is: You have skills and smarts that can be used in many, many pursuits.

Lastly, thanks … but no thanks:

  • Remotely supervise mid-levels you have never met … who see patients you have never met … at a site you have never visited.
  • Do joint injections (that you haven't been trained to do).
  • Do conscious sedation (that you haven't been trained to do).
  • Get a hyperbaric chamber for your office (you can figure out what to do with it later).

I belong to several social media groups for physicians looking for extra income. The ideas above were actually proposed online—and all of them carry a real risk of harm, medical malpractice, and loss of your license. You would be better off selling skincare products.

This article was previously published at A Doctor's Worth.

Image: IconicBestiary / gettyimages

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