Physicians Turning to Side Gigs for Extra Pay: From Insurance Reviewer to Real Estate Agent

Naomi Shammash

July 19, 2021

The side gig, also known as "side hustle," has become a popular way for physicians to create additional income or pursue a passion project.

COVID-19–related income loss has inspired more doctors to take up side gigs, but the trend predates 2020. To gauge the prevalence of side gigs among physicians, Medscape surveyed more than 2500 practicing doctors in the United States about their side gigs ― what they do, what they earn, and what they hope to gain.

Thirty-seven percent of doctors currently have a side gig. Physicians who have had a side gig for at least a year answered that they've sought additional income for an average of 10 years. "I have seen physicians pursue side gigs more and more in recent years," says David Beran, DO, emergency physician and writer. "Sometimes they are clinical jobs, sometimes they're not clinical but medical, and sometimes they're neither."

Men Are Twice as Likely to Have Side Gigs

Men (two thirds) are more likely to have a side gig than women (one third), according to the survey.

Nisha Mehta, MD, a radiologist who has founded two online communities, Physician Side Gigs and Physician Community, sees these data as encouraging, considering the stereotypes of men and women doctors. "To me, it states that despite the challenges that female physicians traditionally face in finding the bandwidth to balance work, family, and a side gig, particularly during their first decade and a half of practice, women physicians are finding innovative ways to create fulfillment and flexibility in their careers," she says.

Most men's side gigs are medical-related. The most popular side gigs among men were medical consulting (27%), expert witness (25%), chart review (20%), and speaking (16%), such as making presentations at conferences or being a guest lecturer. Women doctors were more likely to have a nonmedical side gig. Women's most popular medical activities were medical consulting and medical moonlighting (17%), telemedicine consulting and advising (15%), and speaking (13%).

Of physicians with a side gig, two thirds said that their side gig was nonmedical. On the whole, real estate (21%) and investing (19%) were the two most popular kinds of nonmedical side gigs. Among women, real estate was the most popular nonmedical side gig.

Men's nonmedical side gigs more often included consulting, sports, electronics, investing, business, and real estate. Women's side gigs more often included crafts, social media, and blogging. Answers included "owning a vegan restaurant," "astrological charts," "owning a picture frame shop," and "buying and selling antiques online."

COVID-19 Pushed Many Into Side Gigs

Nearly half of physicians who began a side gig within the past year reported that the challenges of COVID-19 influenced their decision to do so. According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2021, many doctors saw their income drop because of job loss, reduced hours, or reduced patient volume.

Doctors spend an average of 16 hours per month on their side gig. Half of them report that lack of time keeps them from becoming more successful at it. "It's almost impossible for me to get enough time to get this really going," wrote one respondent. "I end up having to use my vacation time and my family time to work my side gig. Yes, it's bringing in money and I'm glad for that, but I'm afraid it's going to lead to burnout, and my family is annoyed about my lack of free time."

Half of physicians said they had to learn new skills for their side gig, and two thirds reported that they would benefit "a lot" or "some" from learning business skills.

Extra Money the Main Side Gig Driver

Nearly half (48%) of physicians answered that their main goal in pursuing their side gig was to earn extra money. The next most popular answers were "to have fun" (12%), "to begin building a second career for when I retire" (11%), and "to use/build my skills" (10%). Primary care physicians and specialists equally reported that having an additional income stream was their main goal.

The average annual income from side gigs was $25,300, which took a hit from the pre-COVID average of $28,600. Men ($27,500) earned more than women ($20,900). Physicians reported expecting $35,400 at most annually from their side gig. Men ($37,300) expected to earn more than women ($32,000). Just under one third of physicians reported getting tax benefits from their side gig.

One half of doctors reported that their primary jobs and side gigs were equally fulfilling; 23% reported that side gigs were more fulfilling, and one quarter reported that they were less so. Two-thirds of doctors reported being very satisfied or satisfied with their primary jobs.

Participants in the survey were Medscape members. More than 2500 physicians responded, and more than 1800 engaged in a side gig.

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