5 physician side gigs I’ve tried, where I found them, and how I’d rate them

Last updated Dec 28, 2020 | Published on Jan 4, 2021

Despite a fairly widespread interest in physician side gigs, many doctors feel stuck on how to get started with a side gig, where to find one, how to choose one, and how to negotiate favorable terms for the work. There is no single right way to go about it, so it’s difficult to provide advice that applies to all physicians wanting a source of extra income.

What I can offer, though, is some insight based on my own experience. I’ve had (and still have) quite a few sources of side income that run the gamut in terms of how I got into them and how they’ve benefitted my career. This post describes 5 types of side gigs that I’ve had and answers to these questions for each of them:

  • What was the work that I did?
  • How did I find the opportunity?
  • How did I benefit from it – either as a source of extra income or to further my career (or both!)?
  • Compared to other physician side gigs, how would I rate it?

The options for using our knowledge and skills as doctors are endless, and some side gigs are better suited to some physicians than others. My hope is that the information below will help you in determining what might be a good side gig option for you and guide you in taking steps to get started.

1. Writing

There are many types writing gigs for doctors. I’ve tried out several of them and currently spend a significant portion of my time on paid writing work. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a cheerleader of writing as a both a side hustle and a full-time non-clinical job because it is flexible, can often be done from home, and is usually low stress. Moreover, most types of writing that physicians choose to do requires a satisfying blend of scientific knowledge and creativity.

Medical communications

What I’ve done: I wrote documents for pharmaceutical medical affairs and medical education, including CME content, needs assessments, physician surveys, and scientific manuscripts.

How I found it: I found my first work as a freelance medical writer through Hitt Medical Writing (now Nascent Medical), for whom I was a subcontractor. The work in this area that I do currently is a position that I found on Indeed.

How I’d rate it: Very high. I love the extent to which medical knowledge assists with high quality output as a medical communications medical writer. Moreover, since most of the funds for this type of work are directly or indirectly coming from pharma companies, the pay can be good.

Patient education materials

What I’ve done: I wrote and edited content on health-related topics for online publications intended to educate patients and the general public. This was primarily for LIVESTRONG and eHow, which are run by Demand Media, Inc (now Leaf Group).

How I found it: I applied as a writer on Demand Media’s position page.

How I’d rate it: I don’t enjoy this type of writing as much as I do medical communications geared toward a professional audience. It also doesn’t pay nearly as well, at least in my experience. For those who want to churn out a lot of content despite the low compensation, a publisher like Demand Media should be a consideration. They always had a queue full of topics that needed articles, and writers were able to search through it and claim articles whenever they wanted.

Blogging

This is the only one in which I’ve taken the time to develop an idea, grow my own business, and truly do the work for myself instead of someone else’s company.

What I’ve done: I write blog posts here on Look for Zebras, generally one per week. I also offer career services, which involves writing documents like resumes and cover letters. My blog audience’s interest on the topic of nonclinical careers led me to write the book 50 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians.

How I found it: I founded and grew Look for Zebras myself, using some tools and services to help me along the way.

How I’d rate it: I’ve learned a lot by blogging, especially about web development and marketing. My blog has grown enough that I have been able to monetize it. While it is a source of income, it requires a lot of effort in upkeep and to consistently push out new content.

2. Physician and medical provider education

There are a lot of opportunities to participate in physician education outside of a traditional academic setting. CME companies, test prep companies, and employers seeking to improve the performance of their physician workforce are all in need of subject matter experts and educational content developers.

Clinical documentation improvement consulting

What I’ve done: I worked as a physician consultant with a company that helps hospitals implement clinical documentation improvement programs. During the implementation, I would spend a week at the hospital educating providers about the program, how they could help to make it successful, and how they would benefit from it.

How I found it: This consulting position was advertised on a job listings search engine.

How I’d rate it: I loved this work and it paid really well. Unfortunately, they were a large company that made decisions quickly, and one day the decision was made to stop using physician contractors in favor of having their in-house team conduct provider education.

EHR implementation support

What I’ve done: I worked as a contractor for a small company called ITphysicians and for Encore Health Resources (now emids), offering “at-the-elbow” physician support at hospitals implementing new EHR systems.

How I found it: If I recall correctly, the owner of the first company came across my profile on Linkedin and reached out to me. The first project I was involved in allowed me to make connections and secure similar work on future projects.

How I’d rate it: This side gig was almost as good as CDI consulting. The pay was significantly less for EHR implementation support, though I was able to do it as a resident. It was a great opportunity as a resident. I like working with EHRs, so also found it to be a fun gig.

Test prep content development

What I’ve done: I wrote multiple choice questions and explanations for various companies that offer exam prep services to medical students, residents, and board-certified physicians.

How I found it: A variety of job boards, digests, and freelancing platforms, including The Hitt List, Upwork, and Indeed. My previous medical writing work made me a strong candidate when vying for these roles.

How I’d rate it: Writing multiple choice questions on scientific topics is one of my very favorite types of writing. While it can take a long time (often an hour or more) to draft a question, the fact that questions can be written one at a time makes this an ideal physician side gig to squeeze into your sporadic free time.

3. Expert consulting

This category includes any side gig work in which you provide advice or an opinion based on your knowledge of a particular topic area. When most people think of consulting, they think of large consulting firms or formal consulting businesses; however, doctors can earn income by expert consulting alongside a full time job with intermittent and short-term projects.

This physician side gig is a bit different than the others as you need a baseline amount of expertise in something. This can a tough one to get into as, say, a resident or early career physician. But, conversely, it can be particularly lucrative for doctors with a lot of experience under their belts.

Medical legal consulting

What I’ve done: I’ve worked as a consultant for law firms, reviewing and formulating a medical opinion for medical malpractice lawsuits.

How I found it: For the first case I was involved in, a law firm contact me out of the blue. I am not sure how they got my contact information or identified me as an appropriate expert for their case. That firm then recommended me to the firm that retained me for the next case I worked on.

How I’d rate it: Medical legal work can be very lucrative. For me, though, the work is somewhat stressful.

Subject matter expert consulting

What I’ve done: I’ve conducted phone calls with clients of expert consulting networks such as Guidepoint and GLG, providing answers to their questions on a specific topic, industry, or market.

How I found it: I secured my first assignment after an employee from the network contacted me through Linkedin. I enjoyed doing a call with his client, so I signed up for a couple other expert networks after that.

How I’d rate it: I rate this side gig highly. You essentially get paid to talk about a topic that you enjoy and are knowledgeable about. However, you can’t depend on having consistent work and you can’t predict when you’ll match with a client.

4. Clinical work

Side gigs don’t need to be non-clinical. Doing clinical work on top of your regular job can have several benefits in addition to the income it generates. For example, it can allow non-clinical doctors to keep up their clinical skills. It can assist any type of medical doctors in gaining experience in an sub-field or patient population that they don’t see in their day-to-day practice.

Telemedicine

What I’ve done: I conducted telemedicine visits with patients on platforms that hire contracted physicians to work on an as-needed or part-time basis.

How I found it: I got started doing telemedicine as a side gig when I applied to be a doctor for HealthTap.

How I’d rate it: I honestly haven’t enjoyed telemedicine as much as some of the other physician side gigs that I’ve done. I’ve really only dipped my toe into the waters of all the ways that doctors can get involved in telemedicine. If I put in the time and effort, I feel confident that I could find a telemed company – or even start my own telemedicine practice – that I’d probably rate as 4 or 5 stars.

Moonlighting

What I’ve done: I’ve work as a contracted physicians for outpatient practices in my area, for both PRN and scheduled work.

How I found it: A pharmaceutical rep in the area put me in touch with the owners of two clinics that I’ve work at. For another one, a recruiter contacted me on Linkedin.

How I’d rate it: There’s something to be said for good, old-fashioned moonlighting. Clinical work is what we’re trained and licensed to do as physicians. As such, it’s a good match for our skill set and it pays well. This has been the main way in which I keep my clinical skills up to par amidst the nonclinical work that I do.

5. Taking paid surveys

Getting paid to offer your opinion is equally easy and enjoyable. For doctors, this is most often done by taking market research surveys or doing interviews with companies who are developing healthcare or medical products. Some may argue that this isn’t truly a side gig, because you earn an honorarium rather than charging your own fee or agreeing on a rate. Nonetheless, it can be a significant source of income if you take the time to seek out surveys. And you’ll still get taxed on what you earn like any other 1099 income!

What I’ve done: I’ve taken surveys offered by a bunch of different companies, on a wide array of topics. I’ve given my opinion on potential new drug names, what EHRs I like, and how I manage patients with renal disease, just to name a few.

How I found it: I joined the physician panels for each of the survey companies, my favorite of which you can read about here.

How I’d rate it: I like taking surveys because it’s an easy way to earn enough for a nice dinner out, and can be done from home in your PJs. But I wouldn’t give it 5 stars because most surveys have lengthy screening processes that take time and then kick you out when you don’t qualify to take them.

Concluding thoughts

The composite of my physician side gig experience leads me to draw a few general conclusions:

1. To have a successful side gig, you don’t need a grand idea that will “take off.” It is completely reasonable to earn money on the side without the expectation that it will become your full-time work. Side hustles can be both lucrative and satisfying without growing into full-blown businesses or otherwise getting yourself noticed.

2. Networking isn’t the be-all and end-all of finding side gig opportunities. Neither is relentlessly searching through job postings or being part of any particular organizations. Great opportunities can be found in many ways. This is why I say you should be on the lookout for zebras in your career.

3. Like many challenges in life, getting started can be one of the hardest parts. Identifying and securing side gigs becomes easier the more side work that you do. You begin to realize what strategies tend to be successful for you and what types of work make sense for your personal situation. You amass experience and, in some types of work, you get your name out there.

For readers interested in any of these side gigs, keep an eye on the Look for Zebras job board. It frequently has medical writing and consulting opportunities.

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