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How can doctors make extra money – even in a low-paying specialty?

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You don’t need to be a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or other procedure-heavy, narrowly focused specialist to enjoy a great income as a physician. There are a number of ways that family medicine physicians, internists, pediatricians, generalists, and doctors in traditionally “low-paying” specialties can earn a higher-than-average income.

Here are ways to boost your income higher without a career change or starting from the drawing board with a new residency.

Do work on the side

Don’t rely on your day job to bring in all your income. Take on a couple of moonlighting shifts each month, or do some freelance work in the evenings and weekends. The opportunities for this are plentiful, and the types of work cover an entire range from clinical to nonclinical.

Definitely reserve time for your family and friends, as well as yourself and your own mental and physical health. But consider swapping out TV time, mindless social media scrolling, or frequent happy hours for time spent on extra income-producing activities.

Take on administrative and management responsibilities

Administrative work as a physician sets you up for more senior leadership positions. Higher salary tends to follow.

You may naturally get asked to start taking on these responsibilities within your organization. If don’t, though, seek them out. Make it known to your supervisor or department head that you’d like to be more involved outside of direct patient care. Talk to the chair of a committee or work group that interests you, and chances are they’ll keep you in mind when there’s an open seat.

Work in an organization with opportunities for advancement

When considering a job offer, do your due diligence. Too many job seekers focus solely on the job description and salary offer. It’s so important to learn as much as you can about the organization that you’ll be spending 40+ (or +++) hours per week with. This includes vision, culture, and values.

With a focus on earning a higher income, however, your due diligence also needs to include your potential for promotion within the company. How long do people stick around? How is their work evaluated and recognized? What trajectory have other physicians in similar positions taken within the company?

You’re much more likely to see a bigger jump in compensation with a promotion than with a simple raise that comes with a routine review or cost of living adjustment. Make sure this will be an possibility for you.

Change jobs periodically

Promotions within a company are a great way to gain a higher income, but changing jobs entirely is even better. An article in Forbes noted that the average increase in salary for an employee changing employers is 10% to 20%. This is substantial compared to the typically raise you’d see if you stay within the same company.

Of course, you don’t want to be a job hopper. But it’s not the mid-1900’s anymore. Nobody expects you to stay with the same company for your entire career.

Establish an area of expertise

You may be a generalist by training, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an area of expertise that sets you apart from others in the field… and helps you earn more.

Choose an area you’re particularly passionate about and delve into it. Use your enthusiasm about a topic to motivate you to stay updated, do research, or teach a course.

Or, perhaps there’s something you’ve become the ‘go to’ person for around your workplace. For example, maybe you’re notorious for knowing all the time-saving features in your EMR. Take this seriously and use it to your advantage.

Get more education

Advice to get more education may sound ridiculous to someone with over 20 years of formal education. But for those in lower-paying specialties, another degree or certification can pay off. Here are a few to consider:

MBA – This is a great option if you’re interested in starting, acquiring, or working your way up in a business.

MPH – Broadening your knowledge and skills in population health, biostats, epidemiology, and other public health fields will make you more appealing for a broad range of healthcare jobs.

Certified Physician Executive – This certification from the American College of Physician Leaders will indicate to potential employers that you have education and experience in leadership, management, and communication.

These extra credentials won’t automatically earn you extra income. In fact, the process of obtaining them will cost you in tuition and time away from income-generating activities. But if you use them and the skills you’ve gained while earning them to advance your career, you can expect your compensation to reflect that.

Practice in an area or setting of high need

Being open geographically lends itself to a higher income. In general, physicians in rural areas earn more than equivalent physicians in urban areas. Some cities have lower average compensation than others. (Though pay attention to cost of living differences, as well!). The concept of supply and demand holds true for the supply of doctors and the demand for healthcare within a region.

This doesn’t apply to just geographic location. There are certain practice types and settings that have more difficulty recruiting providers than others. Correctional facilities, for example, tend to have a tough time recruiting providers, and often are willing to pay quite well to attract qualified candidates.

Always negotiate your salary

Accepting the job offer initially presented to you by an HR specialist probably means you’ve left money on the table. Employers expect candidates to negotiate, and they don’t want to spend more on payroll than they have to. You can boost your salary by simply indicating that you’re unable to take a position without a higher compensation.

Negotiation can take place in your current position, as well. Ask your supervisor for a review if you don’t automatically get them periodically. It’s expected that raises will be discussed at the time of a review. This is your chance to exhibit your accomplishments from the past year or so and justify your importance to the organization.

Be passionate and do good work

I had to include this one touchy-feely tip here at the end. Because it’s true. If you perform well at your job it will show. If you’re passionate and enthusiastic about your work, people will notice. You may not love your job, but you can still find bits and pieces that excite you and capitalize on those.

When others notice – bosses, colleagues, patients, coworkers – you set yourself up for promotion, recognition, and various other opportunities to boost your income.

6 thoughts on “How can doctors make extra money – even in a low-paying specialty?”

  1. I do like the concept of doing side work to supplement an income and this applies to any physician whether in a low paying or high paying specialty.

    Just like you need to diversify your investments so that you don’t have “all your eggs in one basket,” you need to have a similar philosophy towards your income.

    Granted, most physicians have a stable job and are in demand, but there are many things that can derail your financial goals if you solely rely on one income source. Physicians can get fired (this has happened 2x to colleagues of mine this past year at my work) and may be out of work for some time while trying to find another job.

    If you have not built up a large enough financial reserve or have other income streams (passive or not) you can quickly find yourself in dire straits especially if you had been living a “paycheck to paycheck” lifestyle.

    In radiology I am lucky to be in a high paying specialty that allows me to invest quite a bit each paycheck as I live way below my means. I do this because I want to establish passive income via the investments I do (currently putting it in real estate) so that I can hasten my exit from medicine as I have been feeling burnout at times.

    I encourage everyone to explore side gigs because you never know when the golden goose may stop laying eggs

    • Yes, this absolutely applies to physicians in high-paying specialties too! I definitely agree with the concept of “diversifying your income” and, in fact, have been working on a blog post on this very topic.

  2. “Low” paying specialty still puts you well above 90%ile for American household incomes. Live below your means and invest in mutual funds.

    • I agree with that living below your means and investing in mutual funds are smart moves. This article is really more about ways to increase one’s W-2 and 1099 income through professional activities.

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