Women in Medicine Summit

Women in Medicine Summit

Source:

Mehta N, et al. Empowerment through alternative income streams. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit; October 9-10, 2020; Virtual.

Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.
October 12, 2020
5 min read
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Physicians can use ‘side gigs’ to reduce burnout, achieve financial freedom

Source:

Mehta N, et al. Empowerment through alternative income streams. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit; October 9-10, 2020; Virtual.

Disclosures: Healio Primary Care was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.
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Finding an alternative income stream is particularly important for physicians, according to a presentation at this year’s virtual Women in Medicine Summit.

Nisha Mehta, MD, a radiologist in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said physicians who do not have the financial ability to limit their clinical work when they need a break can be at risk for burnout.

Finding an alternative income stream is particularly important for physicians, according to a presentation at this year’s virtual Women in Medicine Summit. Source: Adobe Stock.

She said women, in particular, are at risk for leaving medicine, as research has shown that “40% of women physicians will actually cut back clinically or leave medicine entirely within their first 5 years out of training.”

Mehta said if physicians can “set up a life of medicine on your own terms that works in accordance with your personal priorities and your professional priorities, you’re going to have a lot better chance of being able to do this for the next 30 years.”

Reasons for pursuing alternative income sources

Mehta said the average student loan amount for physicians after medical training is $300,000, which makes it difficult to take a step back from their clinical workload.

Therefore, achieving financial freedom through alternative income sources can help create new possibilities for physicians, according to Mehta.

Nisha Mehta
Nisha Mehta

“I always tell people that your best position to be in when you’re negotiating is the power to walk away, and having financial freedom opens up those possibilities,” she said. “It allows you to take some risks, it gives you the strength that you need to say ‘no, that’s actually not something I want to do,’ or ‘I understand what you’re asking from me, but I would rather do it this way’ and be able to set those terms, because in a worse-case scenario, you can walk away from that and find something else.”

She added that having an income source outside of clinical work can enhance overall satisfaction and happiness and can improve personal well-being and confidence.

Physicians are often faced with a significant workload not directly related to patient care, Mehta said, and the involvement of many other factors can lead to a loss of autonomy that contributes to burnout.

The lack of work-life balance and flexibility — particularly as physician demographics change and more women enter the field — along with shifts in the health care landscape can also contribute to physician burnout.

Once physicians determine how they can stay ahead of these challenges, “that’s going to be the ultimate way that a lot of us are able to find that niche in medicine that’s exactly perfect for us, that allows us to say ‘I don’t want to leave, I actually want to do this every year from now on’,” Mehta said.

She added that physicians have often followed a set path in their careers and can have trouble finding a way to divert from that path while remaining in medicine.

“We understand that there has been a very set stereotype and mold and model that we all followed just because that’s the way that it’s always been, but now we’re acknowledging that happiness is necessary both in the personal space and in the professional space, and we want to change the status quo; maybe we want some flexibility, maybe we want to be able to say that we work on our own terms,” she continued.

Physicians need to first determine what they want out of their career, which can often take some time, according to Mehta. Once they determine what it is that drives them and gives them satisfaction — even if it’s outside of medicine — they can pursue those goals.

After they decide what they want, Mehta said physicians need to determine financial practicalities, such as how much monthly income they need, whether or not they have debt, and how much income they need to remove any challenges that threaten their career longevity in medicine.

Medical, nonmedical ‘side gigs’

The first decision for physicians, then, is to decide whether they want to pursue alternative income streams in medicine or not related to medicine.

“And a lot of us are really good at leveraging our expertise, and if our expertise is in medicine, then certainly pursuing a medicine-related side gig makes a lot of sense,” Mehta said.” And in a lot of cases this is going to be your most lucrative side-gig option unless you’re really successful in the business space.”

Physicians can pursue side gigs in telemedicine, or in more flexible options such as working as consultants or expert witnesses. Pursuing work in research, device development, medical directors and as professional speakers or medical writers are also popular alternative income options for physicians.

“There are lots and lots of options,” Mehta said. “Health care is a multitrillion-dollar industry, and there are a lot of people who can benefit from the expertise of doctors, and I think doctors really need to get into that space.”

Unrelated to medicine, physicians can pursue more creative options for alternative income sources.

“Really, you can monetize anything,” Mehta said. “If there’s something that you’re passionate about — if you can develop that brand — then you will find a way to monetize it. Don’t think that something is not lucrative; remember, there’s someone in every industry, so what you really need to do is just find out what you want to spend your free time doing, and then go from there.”

One popular nonmedical option is real-estate investing, which can be a more passive alternative income source; physicians can invest in real estate and receive a cash flow while a property manager handles the day-to-day work.

Investing in a franchise is another popular option among physicians who have the bandwidth to run a business or who have a family member who can take an active role in a business.

Other nonmedical options include venture capital investments, driving for a ride-sharing service, dog walking, vlogging and coaching.

“It’s really just about what is fun and easy and fits within your life,” Mehta said. “Don’t assume that you’re always going to make more money in medicine, because it actually may be the case that if you hit on something big and you know how to navigate it in a way that you can really market it, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can make in business.”

Mehta stressed that pursuing an alternative income “really isn’t all about the money.” She said if physicians pursue a side gig that they do not enjoy or aren’t passionate about, it will likely contribute to their burnout. Additionally, a side gig may not do well if the physician isn’t passionate about it and others sense that lack of enthusiasm.

“You really have to approach this from a point of genuine passion in order for yourself to be successful and to enjoy doing it, and not just having it be another thing that’s on your plate,” Mehta said, adding that if money is the only goal of pursuing a side gig, physicians should just find a way to take on more clinical work.

“If you’re not enjoying it, you shouldn’t be pursuing it,” Mehta said.

She stressed that if physicians find that their side gig becomes successful and more time consuming and that they are becoming “a victim of their own success,” it’s important for them to give themselves a break.

“If you start finding yourself taking on more than you can handle, and you don’t really need to do that for whatever reason, you need to give yourself the ability and the permission to take a step back,” Mehta said.