Early in my career, I realized I didn't want to see patients as much. I didn't want to never see them, but I didn't want to spend all my time seeing them and logging more hours each day doing paperwork.
I was becoming burned out and losing my passion for bedside medicine. I still wanted to use my medical knowledge and experience, but wanted to find something that would be mentally stimulating and creative, and would give me a potential source of income.
From bedside medicine to writing
I started writing and editing board-style review test questions for the USMLE, as I have always had a passion and skill for writing. Writing board-style questions eventually led to writing for medical journals and leaping into the mental health and addiction writing sector. Initially, I was spending about 10 hours a week on my side gig, but over the years, it increased to a bit more.
Finally, I came to a fork where I felt I could leave bedside medicine to pursue writing and editing full-time in the medical world. During the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I took that option and ran with it.
I am not saying that side gigs are a way to transition out of bedside medicine, but they can be a way to learn and hone different skills, use your creativity, and take a break from any stress related to patient care. But side gigs certainly could be a way to transition out of bedside medicine if that is your plan and desire.
I had felt that I had lost a lot of autonomy in bedside medicine, and having side gigs allowed me to regain my autonomy while producing additional income and giving me back time and freedom.
Find side gigs that you enjoy
The first step to finding a side gig as a physician is discovering what you want to do. What interests you?
It could be anything from teaching, writing, speaking engagements, real estate, and peer-review cases for hospitals or private practice, to hospital administration, pharmaceutical research, consulting for medical insurance or pharmaceutical companies, or expert witness.
The possibilities are endless; however, it may take some time and experience-building forays before you become successful, as success does not happen overnight or in one try.
Once you have figured out what type of side gig you want to take a stab at, it is time to search. I found most of my opportunities and connections through LinkedIn, so creating a LinkedIn profile and updating your resume is important.
There are also physician services that specifically source non-clinical side gigs for doctors. Some of these services are free, and some require a subscription or a one-time payment. A quick Internet search for "physician side gigs" is a good starting point.
Be aware of non-competes
As a physician in clinical medicine, you most likely signed a contract. It is important to follow the clauses in this contract to ensure you are not breaking any rules when it comes to side gigs. Keep an eye out for non-competes and things of that nature.
Having your own business means more flexibility, creativity, and income opportunities, but it also means accounting and taxes.
I made the mistake of not being incorporated in my first couple of years, and as a result, I had to pay 100% of my payroll taxes to the IRS. Being incorporated, whether through an LLC, S Corp, or C Corp, not only can help you in terms of taxes, but it also protects your personal property and name from any lawsuits. Becoming incorporated does involve some paperwork and fees, but it’s worth it.
Additionally, you will need to set up a business name, a business bank account, and an optional business credit card account. I recommend finding a reliable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy tax professional to help guide you through setting up your business and filing business taxes in the future.
"I hired my tax professional to guide me through the process, which made it very easy. "
— Kristen Fuller, MD
Nuances of working for yourself
No more employee benefits
A side gig most likely means you are self-employed, and thus no longer receiving benefits from your employer, such as health insurance or a 401k retirement plan. This can be a rude awakening.
Upon realizing this, I chose to stay fully employed by my employer, so I could have the benefits of paid time off, health insurance, and 401k retirement contributions in addition to my successful side hustle. If you choose not to stay employed and completely go off on your own, there are ways to obtain health insurance and establish retirement funds. It just may cost more money and require a savvy financial adviser. Speaking to a financial adviser once a year is a good idea to make sure your investment funds are on the right track for your specific goals.
Flexible hours, but unpaid time off
Working for yourself also means you can work whenever you want, wherever you want. But if you choose to take time off, you will not be paid during that time. So it is important to keep this in mind and budget for any time when you will not be working.
Working for yourself also means that you will most likely "take your work home with you." Because you have your own business and the opportunities are endless, you may find yourself working late at night, on the weekends, or during vacation. Sometimes this can create burnout and trouble in your personal relationships.
Just like working in bedside medicine, it is important to create a strict work-life balance so you don't become burned out and stressed. After all, isn't this the reason why many of us are choosing to take on side gigs, to avoid burnout and stress?