That’s right. Your doctor spent at least 11 years in post-secondary education to be in a position to take care of you.
She probably puts in 50 to 60 hours a week or more on the job. And yet, if she doesn’t have an active side hustle, she’s probably been thinking about starting one. Tens of thousands of U.S. physicians are actively discussing their passion projects on Facebook groups like Passive Income Docs, Physician Side Gigs, and Physicians on FIRE. Why, when their main jobs pay so well and take up so much of their time, are medical doctors turning to side hustles as a supplement to their day (and night) jobs as physicians?
5 Reasons Your Doctor Has a Side Hustle
Types of Physician Side Hustles
The different types of physician side hustles run the gamut from closely related to medicine to as far away as one could get. Your doctor may simply be moonlighting in their own specialty, working extra nights and weekends, or covering others’ vacation time by using their own vacation days working as a locum tenens physician.
They may be doing clinical work outside of their specialty but well within their lane as a physician by performing insurance physicals or sports physicals. Some physicians leverage their expertise by doing non-clinical work as expert witnesses or case reviews. There are doctors helping their colleagues better understand issues in personal matters like finances, career matters, and burnout issues like Physician on FIRE, The White Coat Investor, and The Physician Philosopher, to name a few.
Others distance themselves from medicine as much as possible with their side hustles. South Bay Brewing was started by an anesthesiologist (one could argue that alcoholic beverages and anesthetics bear some similarities). Some physicians create art, invest in real estate, and engage in countless other pursuits that have little or nothing to do with medicine.
Whatever the side hustle, there are a handful of reasons your doctor may very well have more than one job.
#1: Doctors are Deep in Debt
The average indebted medical student, which is about 71% of them according to the latest AAMC survey, has around $200,000 in student loan debt when finishing medical school. The balance typically grows during a 3 to 7-plus year stretch of residency and fellowship training before one can start earning a physicians’ salary.
A doctor that had no family help and attended private or out-of-state schools for their undergraduate and medical studies can easily rack up $500,000 or more in student loan debt. Your doctor may be working a side job simply to avoid treating their school debt like a mortgage and help themselves pay off their student loans. You can opt for a 25-year repayment plan, but with some hard work and discipline, even the higher balances can be eliminated by most doctors in less than a decade. Those who work a side hustle, for this reason, will typically find one that pays well right off the bat and requires little additional knowledge or training. Think moonlighting in one’s own field and locum tenens work.
#2 Personal Fulfillment
Believe it or not, your doctor might not have dreamed of becoming a physician from the time he or she was a toddler. Yes, many physicians have felt the calling to heal from an early age, but quite a few that came to that choice in a more roundabout way. “I got excellent grades, liked science, and medicine seemed like a natural fit. Plus, my parents really wanted me to be a doctor.”
I’ve heard many variations on this theme. Perhaps what they really wanted to do in life didn’t translate well to an actual career. That’s where the side hustle can come into play. The doctor job pays the bills and then some, and can also provide the seed money for any number of unrelated pursuits. The closer your doctor is to financial independence — and can conceivably be done saving for retirement — the more freedom he has to do whatever it is outside of medicine that feeds his soul.
#3 A Goal-Driven Nature
Excel in high school. Attend a well-regarded college or university, preferably with a merit scholarship. Earn a strong GPA and ace the standardized tests. Beat the odds and be accepted into med school. The fun is just beginning. Drink from the firehose of information that comprises the first two years of medical school. Impress your attending physicians with your knowledge, confidence, and wit. Receive outstanding letters of recommendation that will ultimately help you land a prized residency spot in your specialty of choice.
Similar fun awaits you in residency and fellowship, where you’ll often be working 80 hours a week. Master your craft and please the right people, and you’ll be awarded with a great job — a real doctor job — when you finish your training. And then… you work.
Unless you stay on in academic medicine at an ivory tower institution, you soon run out of hoops to jump through. The only milestones you may have left are when your employer acknowledges that you’ve been with them for five years, and then ten years… fifteen years, and you feel a certain void that’s hard to pin down.
After a lifetime of people-pleasing and achievement, your doctor wants to accomplish something more. That’s where a side hustle can be invaluable. Starting something completely novel — often from scratch — can give your physician a whole new set of goals to set and pinnacles to reach. That may be exactly what your goal-oriented doctor needs.
#4 Another Retirement Account
Physicians get a late start on retirement savings and often celebrate becoming “worthless,” that is escaping a negative net worth to finally break even, at some point in their thirties. A side hustle can allow an employed physician to open another type of retirement account, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP IRA, with earnings from the extra income.
A lucrative side hustle could allow a doctor to put as much as $57,000 into an individual 401(k) or SEP IRA in 2020. Tax-deferred contributions of that magnitude can be powerful in both boosting retirement savings and reducing taxes for high-income professionals. An additional advantage of having an individual 401(k), as long as the plan accepts rollovers, is that it can be a place to consolidate any “old” accounts like a 401(k) or 403(b) from a previous employer, or a traditional or SEP IRA. Eliminating any IRA money in your name opens up the possibility of making $6,000 (or $7,000 if age 50 or over) annual backdoor Roth contributions.
High earners are unable to contribute to a Roth IRA directly, but there is a two-step workaround, and that’s one more retirement account to help these late starters play catch-up. Doctors that pursue a side hustle primarily to open a new retirement account and perhaps to pave the way for backdoor Roth contributions may do something small and simple for their business. Filling out paid medical surveys in their spare time is a great example.
#5 A Transition to an Encore Career
An “encore career” is a vocation finale after one’s primary career has ended. Given the amount of time and energy that goes into becoming a physician, the practice of medicine will be the primary career for the vast majority of medical school graduates. Later in their careers, some doctors may decide to scratch the itch to try their hand at another profession entirely. If it works out, great! They may choose to wind their medical practice down while devoting increasingly more of their time to this new endeavor. If the idea flops or they found out it’s just not for them; it’s no hardship. Their primary gig has already given them years of fulfillment and financial security.
The Bottom Line
Do not be surprised or alarmed when you learn that your doctor has a side hustle. She may just be fast-tracking her debt payoff, pursuing a passion project, setting new goals, boosting retirement savings, or considering an encore career after the first one is through.
This article originally appeared on Your Money Geek and has been republished with permission.