There are a lot of great side gigs out there for doctors. Many of which I talk about here and utilize myself. Yet one that I have not yet pursued is physician expert witness work. However, it has always been interesting to me and something I want to learn more about.
Recently, I spoke with Dr. Gretchen Green, a radiologist in North Carolina, about physician expert witness work. She has become somewhat of an “expert” in this field, accruing a ton of experience working as a physician expert witness. So I reached out and gained a ton of useful information.
It turns out she also created the Expert Witness Startup School. This is a comprehensive online course to teach physicians to get started and build up a 6 figure income with expert witness work. And it is even open for enrollment right now until January 29, 2024!
Given how much I enjoyed and found our conversation useful, I invited her to hold a private webinar (you can see the full webinar at the end of the post!) with the PPS community. She also now shares a really thorough guest post on the topic to help others take action and start!
With that said, let’s learn more about becoming a physician expert witness!
Physician expert witness Q&A with Dr. Gretchen Green
And we’re off!
Gretchen, how did you start in expert witness work?
I’ve been a private practice radiologist in North Carolina since 2006 when I finished my fellowship.
Over that time I was busy in a private practice and then lo and behold, I got sued. So how I got into expert witness work originally was actually being a defendant in my own case. And I had a wonderful defense attorney who said, “When this is all said and done, you should be an expert witness.”
And I thought, “Well, that’s crazy, right? Why would I ever want to get involved with this ever again?” But this was one of those times in life where it was truly an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. And I did learn a lot through that process.
And so a few years later when I got a call out of the blue to be an expert witness in an OB ultrasound case, I took that opportunity
I immediately realized knew nothing about doing expert witness work.
The ultrasound, even though it was a difficult ultrasound case, that was the easy part. And all that told me was, “Okay, I’ve got some more learning to do.” So I took every course I could find, read every book, and started to build a practice in about 2016. Went part-time at that point, focused for almost a year on building my expert witness practice.
Fast forward, it’s pretty straightforward to build this as a six-figure business. As a side gig, it changed my life and my options in order to go part-time.
And then 2020 came and the pandemic hit and I saw a need next to connect physicians with attorneys. Attorneys needed experts and physicians were furloughed. They had time on their hands. We had lot of folks who had lost income or even lost their jobs. And they were looking for ways to diversify their income. So then I pivoted and my next step was to offer Expert Witness Startup School. This is a four-week comprehensive how-to course where I teach you my story, how I learned the nuts and bolts, and how to get started in just that same amount of time.
When you started out or maybe the average person you see starting out? How often are they getting cases? How long does it take to ramp up?
And you actually, in earlier introduction, had said the most important part of it. And one that has been my favorite part, which is seeing my students’ success in doing this. It’s amazing, doing this three to four hours a week at a typical physician hourly rate between $600 up to $900/hour from home, even while traveling in flexible timeframes, physicians can earn in that timeframe $100,000 in a year. (Bold font is mine!)
Those who really dedicate themselves and who really choose to take this and run with it, I’ve seen many students, although clearly no guarantees, and it’s a little specialty specific, but it’s not uncommon to generate five-figure income in the first year. Especially if you have a handful of cases at $3,000, $4,000 each, and that’s a typical retainer for a case.
So to put that in perspective, the course that I offer pays for itself with your first case. So it’s pretty easy math. But in longevity, once you set up good business practices like that, that’s just typical income that people can get. And getting your foot in the door then leads to helping you develop a niche and expand even further.
Is this work relatively specialty agnostic or are there certain specialties that are more in demand or is everyone useful?
This is one of the most common questions people ask, is, “If I am this specialty, can I be an expert?”
And it’s interesting because all different specialties ask the question. And so that tells me that everybody has that same question or concern. Yes, as long as you’re seeing patients and there are others like you who see patients, there will inevitably be some malpractice risk. And so there will inevitably be cases that arise from that.
Sometimes what I hear is it reflects a little bit of some mindset work to be done. Where internal medicine physicians, family physicians, they will say things like, “I’m just an internal medicine physician, I’m just a family doc.” And I’ll have to pause them and say, “Wait, you’re not just anything. You have completed college, competitive med school programs, training, board certifications in most cases.”
None of us is just anything, and that’s the heart of really becoming qualified to be an expert and understanding that when you become qualified to do clinical work, you are qualified essentially to be an expert, with rare exceptions, little state specific guidelines.
But as a working physician, you’re going to have colleagues who will need experts to review cases should they come up and your expertise will be needed in other cases.
What does physician expert witness work actually look like?
So majority of the time you’re doing case review.
Either, if you’re my case, you’re reading images, you’re reading medical records, you’re looking at the information that the defendant, or in this case if you’re reading for the plaintiff’s side that the doctors had at the time that they made decisions about the case and what to do.
Then once you’ve evaluated that information, you talk with an attorney. You give your opinion on what happened in the case. And you opine if there should have been action done differently one way or the other?
Then the attorney makes the decision if they’re going to move forward with pursuing the case or keeping your involvement if the case is already ongoing.
And so usually you’ll come in at the beginning of cases. But they can add experts at any point at any time that the lawyer feels they need education and information to help them understand a case better or to position it for later actions in it. So of the almost 70 cases that I’ve been retained in, I’ve done, I believe, about 15 depositions and one case has gone to trial, but I testified in advance because of the type of trial that it was going to be.
And so the great majority of this work is remote, on your own time, doing case review work and then scheduling phone calls. Depositions, which are the minority of the time, but can happen are now almost all via Zoom.
Do you do plaintiff as well as defense work?
The best way to approach this is an objective review.
So basically it just depends who calls me. So plaintiff’s attorney, defense attorney may call me. They often don’t even say what side they’re on. Sometimes they do that on purpose, which that’s fine. It’s part of a blinded review to reduce bias. That’s not something that I typically ask because if they don’t tell me, then it will come out. I’ll get the information but it’s very important as an expert to not bias yourself from the beginning and exclude certain cases that supposes that you’re already making a conclusion.
So some people will say, “I’ll only do defense work.” But what that doesn’t take into account is that there are plenty of cases where a plaintiff’s attorney will retain me, I will review a case, and I don’t find that anyone did anything wrong.
That’s the end of the case. And people don’t realize when they aren’t sued because you would never know, because you never hear about it. So really, excerpts can play an important role at any stage but our role is educational. It’s not retribution. We’re not there to influence the legal process.
We’re there to provide information and to expand our skills and our role as physicians who teach others, just like we do family members, patients, clinical settings.
And as a last question, how do you find your initial cases?
So this gets to marketing, doesn’t it?
And it’s interesting because a lot of physicians start out with a call for an opportunity out of the blue. So how does that happen? It’s hard to know.
People can look at practice websites. Lawyers can ask colleagues. Sometimes they’ll talk with a potential expert who knows you and says, “Hey, my colleague so-and-so might be good for this case. He also does the same work that I do.” So could be peer-to-peer in that case. And sometimes lawyers will find articles where they’ve seen that you’ve published something.
There’s lots of different ways they can randomly find you. But you won’t get a lot of cases just waiting for random action. So if you’re looking to get into expert witness work to really build your skills, to build a number of cases that you get, generally you have to reach out and there’s lots of ways to reach out.
There are websites where you can list as an expert that some lawyers go to.
You can email lawyers directly, you can call them. And so then the question becomes how do you find lawyers? Well, you can look at bar association websites. Almost all lawyers who are in even solo practice firms and certainly large firms have websites. So you can build your own database, you can start with people you know and then build up from there.
So the results that you will get building your expert witness business are directly proportional to the effort you put in
And this has been an interesting project that I’ve just gotten into now that I’ve had people take my course now for several… I’ve had multiple cohorts of students.
Just recently I offered a mailing where students could pay a one-time fee and be featured in an expert mailing that I sent to my database. My database is 10,000 lawyers because I’ve been building it since 2016.
This is the result of a lot of effort on my part to network and to meet lawyers and to really expand that, to have a lot of the personal touch and networking. And this was right after Thanksgiving that I sent that first email where I profiled the biographies of nine experts, and within one week, four out of 10 had a new case.
That is a lot of great information on how to become a physician expert witness!
However there is even more that we covered in our webinar which you can view in total below.
And you can learn more about Dr. Green’s Expert Witness Startup School which is open for enrollment until January 29, 2024 here!
Lastly, here are some more resources to learn how to build alternative streams of income via physician side gigs!
- Physician Side Gigs to Make You Passive Money
- 7 Ways to Get Started with Physician Consulting
- How to Create 5 Streams of Passive Income
What do you think? Have you ever been an expert witness? What was it like? Would you want to become one? Let me know in the comments below!