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3 Ways Side Hustles May Make You a Better Doctor

A recent post of mine asked the question What If Physician Side Gigs Just Make You Want to Be a Doctor? And, I’ll spare you the suspense, the answer is that it is ok…totally fine actually! Not all doctors need a side gig. However, since then, I’ve actually come across some interesting research suggesting that side hustles may actually help make you a better doctor!

side hustles doctor

Does this automatically mean that every doctor should have side hustles? No way. I stick to my prior conclusion.

But, I do think it is worth exploring. Because I certainly see these values when I reflect on my own ongoing experiences with side gigs. And maybe if you are on the fence or stuck with some limiting beliefs about the value of side hustles as a doctor, this can help you out.

But first, some of you may be wondering…

What side hustles are even available for doctors?

There are tons of available physician side gigs out there. You are an expert in a field whose knowledge is necessary for so many different parts of life. As such, people are actually actively seeking out doctors like you to pay for their expert opinions.

Opportunities range from medical surveys to consulting to expert witness work and more. You can find a full list and breakdown of these physician side gigs right here!

With that in mind, let’s jump right in.

3 ways side hustles may make you a better doctor

In no particular order…

1. It makes you more positive in your clinical work

In 2021, Hudson Sessions and colleagues performed a study that broke previously held notions regarding side gigs.

Most people assume that side gigs will distract from one’s full-time work performance. On its face, that makes sense. Wouldn’t a side gig distract you from your “main” work? Don’t spread yourself too thin is the old adage.

The problem with this is that it’s actually not true. In their study of 337 employees, they actually found that side hustles enriched full time employment.

But why does this happen?

Turns out, the main factors through which side jobs improve full time job performance are:

  • Individual empowerment
  • Moderation of one’s relationship with their full-time work
  • Improvement overall engagement
  • More positive affect at full-time work

They also examined any negative impact that side hustles had, largely in the form of performance distraction. Ultimately they found that any negative effects are much out-weighed by the positive impacts mentioned above.

What about us?

That’s the real question right? This research and others supporting it have not been performed with doctors. But I argue that the findings would be similar.

What are some things at the root of burnout? Loss of autonomy. Dysfunctional relationship with clinical work. Lack of clinical engagement or satisfaction with clinical engagement. These lead the list in surveys of doctors on the topic of burnout.

These are all factors that are improved based on the research into side hustles…why should they not also ally to doctors?! I’d argue they apply more given the intense, serious, and (even in the best of circumstances) draining nature of our work.

I’ve certainly experienced this and seen it from other doctors with side hustles. They give us another avenue to express our entrepreneurial, creative, and business-minded selves. They force us to break out of the cycle of strict clinical thinking that dominates our day jobs.

And, maybe even more importantly, when we fail to see gains in our clinical careers, we can find them in our side hustles…

2. It helps manage and prevent stagnation as a doctor

In his book Hidden Potential, Adam Grant dedicates an entire chapter to breaking free from stagnation.

We’ve all experienced this. Progress in any aspect of our lives is never linear. At some point we hit a plateau or a wall. The reality is that these plateaus or walls are not permanent. But that’s not always how our mind sees it. And that mind-f*ck leads causes us to stagnate. Perhaps an even better description for this condition is that we languish.

We languish when we don’t see enough progress to maintain our motivation. We feel empty. After reading Grant’s description of this, I don’t think I’ve ever met a burned out doctor who wasn’t languishing. I certainly was when I burned out!

Thankfully, there are many things we can do when we find ourselves languishing. Sometimes it is the courage to go backwards to help us find a new path forward. Other times we need to seek out mentors to provide scaffolds we can use to get past our obstacle. Yet other times we may need someone to just help point us in a general direction like a compass. Often we need all of the above.

However, doctor side hustles give us another strategy to use in the face of languishing burnout

And Adam Grant argues, languishing disrupts your focus and dulls your motivation. And a sense of progress is the greatest motivator to help us break this cycle of stagnation.

Duh, obviously!

The problem is that you are languishing though. It’s hard to build motivation to make a sense of progress. And without that sense of progress you can’t motivate yourself. And…ahhh…my head hurts.

But there is a secret!

The sense of progress you need to break out of clinical stagnation and burnout doesn’t have to come from or be related to your main goal.

Making progress in your side gig can actually help kick start your motivation clinically! Seeing unrelated progress shows you that progress still exists in the world. And better yet, that you can achieve it. It increases our feelings of autonomy, competence, and value. All things that we can feel are lacking when we languish.

(As a side note, forward steps made in your financial well-being overall can contribute to this sensation of progress and alleviation of linguist as well. Here are 7 small steps to help get on track…)

I have certainly felt this as well with my side gigs!

Sometimes I’ll have an especially challenging day in the OR and come out to find that I’ve made a significant gain or breakthrough with this blog or real estate or something else. The mental buoy that provides cannot be understated. Other times, all it takes is remembering the gains I have made in other areas of my life including side gigs is enough to help bring me back from the negative feelings a difficult clinical day can have. Either way, they are serving an important purpose.

Not to mention the money that side gigs bring in doesn’t hurt…

3. It gives you a financial plan B

Alternative streams of income increase your financial flexibility and really throw gasoline on the fire of your path to, well…FIRE or financial freedom.

There are many ways to achieve financial freedom like those here.

But side gigs give you the unique chance to build entirely new streams of income to supplement and potentially replace your clinical income.

And why would this make us better doctors?

This all goes way back to the importance of financial well-being and financial freedom for doctors to begin with.

By reaching financial freedom, we can practice medicine because we want to, not because we have to. We also gain the flexibility to change our clinical work/employment or leave altogether if we want.

These changes may not actually alter your clinical job much right away. But the intangible and mental implications are huge! No longer can you be forced to practice in a manner that is not congruent with your values. Because you can just leave if you want. No longer can extra work without a commensurate increase in pay be leveled. Because you can just leave. And so on.

I am not financially free yet

I am still on this journey right there with you. That is what makes this blog unique and a big reason why I started it in the first place. I was looking for a fresh voice still on the path to financial success that I could relate to!

However, I have already noticed that small things in my clinical work – extra paperwork, etc. – that used to bother me a lot actually bother me less as I progress on my path to financial freedom. Why? Because I know that if I didn’t want to deal with it, I didn’t have to!

Suddenly those annoyances stop seeming like unnecessary grandes thrown down from the C-suite and become just silly little things to do so that I get the awesome privilege of helping my patients.

It’s a mindset shift that makes all the difference. Possible thanks to financial freedom and courtesy of your doctor side hustles.

In fact, I passionately argue that financial freedom – and thus physician side hustles – helps improve healthcare overall in very powerful ways like these 9!

But make sure to avoid this pitfall

There are a ton of awesome advantages to physician side gigs even beyond the ones we focused on here including:

  • Creating passive income AKA money you make while you sleep
  • Decreasing the amount of savings that you need to retire
  • Paying off your debts faster
  • Investing more
  • Utilizing tax breaks to your advantages
  • Treating yo’ self! (Please click this link if you don’t get the reference – it’s worth it I promise!)

But there is a major pitfall to watch out for that I’ve seen some doctors fall into.

A side hustle that promotes autonomy, gives you a more positive outlook on your clinical work, helps with stagnation and brings in nice side income is fantastic. On the flip side, a side hustle that causes you more stress, eats up too much time, and actually leads to performance distraction is not fantastic. In fact, it will lead to more burnout, not less.

This can be a fine line but ultimately it’s a fairly recognizable one.

So do beware. If this is happening to you, maybe it’s time to step back, realign your goals, and take a new path forward.

Make sure you are using your doctor side hustle to amplify and optimize yourself – personally and professionally!

If you are interested in learning more about available side hustles for doctors, here are some great resources:

What do you think? Can side hustles actually make us a better doctor? Why or why not? What have your experiences been? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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