What physicians miss when thinking about side gigs


In the search of looking for alternative sources of income in the last couple of years, I’ve had somewhat of an existential crisis that I think is worth sharing. As physicians looking for side gigs, we naturally limit the scope of that search to jobs that for the most part capitalize on our MD/DO credential. We have worked so hard for what we have become and the label of being a doctor has become so deeply ingrained in our egos that to separate from that seems like great treachery.

Yet, here we are. As a group, we have wondered into this cave that is medicine, found the golden goose at the end and many of us have realized something is missing. Many are professionally unsatisfied, and many of us feel financially under-compensated for who we are, what we do, and what we can offer. We are also now starting to understand that the fabric of our profession as we see it is being threatened by the slow infiltration of NPs/PAs, AI, and medical administrators.

But we are tribal, and this is our cave, and we have fought hard and long for this position, so we continue to fumble around the cave that we spent a decade venturing into searching for lost pieces of gold in various medical side hustles: chart reviews, medical writing, etc. All the while we grow irritated when looking outside the cave at the plumber or mechanic who makes $250 per hour and grow increasingly frustrated when we can’t seem to find the comparable golden nugget that we feel economically entitled to.

The solution is that we have to go back to a time before we entered the cave, before we buffered our egos with ornaments of degrees and fancy diplomas. You are a physician not because of the work you put in, but because of the intangible elements that make you who you are. What made you want to be a doctor, and what made you successful on that path are not exclusively tied to medicine, those things are part of your fabric, they are powerful, and that and only that is what makes us special.

I think when most of us sit down to do the exercise to describe ourselves in non-vocational terms, we will find that we are creative and compassionate analysts that strive for autonomy and maybe power with subgoals of altruism. This was, of course, my realization, but to each their own of course.

My point in all of this is that I think it is critical that we realize what our real strength is. It’s not medicine; sorry, it’s you! So if you’re looking for a side gig maybe look outside the cave. Think about who you were before you decided on this path and what intangible values you can offer to the world. As doctors, we have an uncanny ability to dissect, analyze, and solve complex problems. Do you think those skills are limited to medicine? A couple of years ago I started a direct to garment T-shirt printing company that I completely automated. This year, three of my friends are starting a truck driving company in which we hope to offer a disruptive and new approach to a multi-billion dollar market.

I’m still a doctor, and I love medicine, but I’ve found incredible fulfillment in going back to the beginning and fostering and repurposing the original elements that made me want to be a doctor in the first place.

Justin Sterett is a correctional physician and a flight surgeon.

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