When I was a full-time partner in a large radiology practice, I worked days, nights, evenings, and weekends without control over my schedule. Doing the laundry, I washed days’ worth of my children’s outfits that I never saw them wear. I saw them in PJs in the morning before I left for work, kissed their warm cheeks goodbye, and saw them again at night when I got home after dinnertime to tuck them in bed.
My friends in medicine felt the same, wondering if they would regret the lost time but seeing no way out except to work harder, sometimes for less money, too.
In order to boost savings, I worked extra weekends. I watched my tax bill go up, and my free time become nonexistent. My children got A’s in “separates easily from parents” on their daycare evaluations.
When my children were 6 and 8, and the market tailwind up to 2016 had boosted our hard-earned savings to a sufficient level, I left my practice and took a sabbatical to take back control of my life.
A sabbatical saved me
During that year, I transitioned from a W-2 employee to business owner of an expert witness practice. I had been an expert witness once before, and loved the critical thinking and the challenge of doing something new, but still within my medical specialty.
I took a new part-time radiology job, but wanted to supplement my income to make up for the loss of full-time clinical income, and doing expert witness work seemed like a great solution. I attended expert witness courses, read as much as I could, and built my network of attorney contacts organically.
It was rewarding to put my knowledge to work in a new way, thinking about medico-legal cases and forming my opinion using an evidence-based approach.
I learned I could leverage my time, shifting the hours spent reviewing cases to work in the mornings before the kids got up, and started a new part-time clinical job. I replaced my prior partner take-home salary income working roughly half the work hours, without nights or weekends.
I went to school activities and actually saw my friends. I could finally help my mom realize her dream of traveling the world with my children, as she did with me.
Secure during uncertainty
By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was able to voluntarily take time off from my part-time position and quarantine at home. I continued to receive new cases to review, which meant I was financially secure, even as I saw my investment portfolio shrink by about 1/3 during the market downturn.
My young children needed a lot of support getting used to remote learning and adapting to a completely new way of life, and my husband’s work as a physician increased as he took on additional tasks in the effort to manage COVID-19. I was able to spend as much time as necessary homeschooling my children and keeping myself and my family healthy.
My rate of new case review has increased during the pandemic as lawyers found themselves needing experts to review cases they had not yet had time to process while busy with depositions and trials.
Lawyers have reached out to me to expand their network of experts, yet have been wary of placing demands on physicians, not knowing the painful truth that so many physicians are financially hurting right now and would gladly take the opportunity to increase their income when they need it most.
At typical hourly rates of $500 to 900 per hour, it is not difficult for most physician experts to earn significant side income.
Why not serve as an expert witness?
When considering expert witness work, physicians often worry that:
1. I don’t have time. Now is the perfect time to do what you already do best – as a doctor — to transform your career, as I did. This is work that can make you love medicine more AND improve your work: life ratio however is best for you.
Investing time in yourself now has never been easier with online courses and real-time remote collaboration. And it might just change your life, as it did for me.
2. I don’t speak legalese. The great news is you’re already an expert physician. You don’t have to become an amateur lawyer. You do, however, need to know how medico-legal cases work and how to communicate as an expert to maintain objectivity.
Entire books have been written on communicating as an expert witness. You may not even know what to say if a lawyer calls you out of the blue about a new case. The good news is, I really enjoy talking with lawyers and have learned a lot working with them.
Lawyers have told me they wished physicians knew more about what to say (or NOT say) during a call to ask them about reviewing a case. So, in response to their feedback, I’ve written a First Call Checklist to help guide the conversation and help you communicate confidently and effectively.
3. I could never testify against another doctor. Serving as an expert witness means reviewing a case objectively and giving your professional opinion. A case in which you are retained by the plaintiff’s attorney may never proceed, if you find there was no breach in the standard of care. (In many states, physicians may never know a lawsuit was begun but ultimately not filed against them, due to an expert finding no-fault.)
I am a lifelong learner and teacher and love using evidence-based medicine to evaluate a new case and formulate my opinion – it’s a mental challenge that also makes me a more informed and better doctor.
My radiology practice values me as a resource when a clinical question comes up because I’ve worked hard to study the literature in my field.
4. I don’t know how to get started. Whether it’s your first or 40th case, you can learn the skills necessary for an expert witness practice. You can find online resources, or you can take a course. My first case was referred by a colleague, and my second case came seven days after listing on an expert witness site directory.
I am frequently retained in cases where multiple experts are needed. It’s difficult for attorneys to find experts, and even harder for physicians to find each other. I want to change that by connecting a community of expert physicians to my network of 6,000+ lawyers.
“Instead of wondering when our next vacation is, we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from.”
– Seth Godin
You don’t need to invent a new product or get an MBA to start a new business. All you need is the right knowledge, skills, and connections to be able to secure a significant side income working as an expert witness.
How could your job make your next ideal life possible?
Gretchen E. Green is a radiologist and experienced expert witness specializing in breast, body, and obstetrical imaging. She created the Expert Witness Startup School to help her fellow physicians launch and build expert witness practices.
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