Physicians-in-training make a pittance when one looks at the hourly rate, Especially when I was residency, in the early 2000’s. I often worked upwards of 100 hrs per week and made $30,000 per year. The first year, called internship, is replete with long hours and crushing responsibilities. Opportunities to make an extra buck are all but impossible. In the second and third years, however, there is much more elective time. During these rotations, it is common for a doctor to feel like they have a normal nine-to-fiver. Those of us with ingenuity, and adapted to little sleep, found it the perfect time to develop the ultimate lazy side hustle: moonlighting.
Before the advent of hospitalists (full-time in-hospital physicians), hospitals had great need for physicians to cover night shifts. While the more senior doctors often finished their work and went home, physicians-in-training could double their salary by filling in after the sun went down.
My hospital offered a particularly lucrative deal that was open to the more advanced residents. We were paid $50 per hour for 12-hour shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night. During these shifts, made up of 3 physicians, we would take turns carrying the main pager, admitting patients, and if lucky enough-getting an hour or two of sleep.
I secured my first real job six months before finishing residency. My wife and I scouted out the housing market, and knew that it would be unlikely to find a house for anything less than $500,000 in the particular Chicago suburb that we were interested in. The question weighed heavily on my mind. How were we going to pay for a down-payment?
We owned the house that we were living in at that time. I say owned loosely because we had closed with a no money down doctors loan. The mortgage rate was something like 8%. After two years, we were able to sell and pocket $50,000. This was super lucky! The market was really hot at the time.
Being relatively financially conservative, there was no way I was going to put such a measly sum down on this massive purchase.
I saw one option, and one option only.
The not so lazy side hustle
Working nights at the hospital was incredibly profitable. I was able to secure two nights of moonlighting a week for the last six months of residency. But it came at a price. There was nothing lazy about this side hustle. It would have all been fine of course, if I didn’t have a regular day job.
My regular job started at 8 a.m. I rushed into the hospital and hustled till 5 p.m. fulfilling the requirements of residency and learning the finer points of internal medicine. At 5 p.m., I rushed home to meet my wife for dinner. Then at 7 p.m., I ran back to the hospital to start my moonlighting shift. I often worked the majority of the next twelve hours as the late night deluge of sick patients kept me on my toes.
By 7 a.m., I had just enough time to take a shower and wolf down some pancakes at the cafeteria before hustling back to the medical floors to join my team on rounds till 5 p.m.
I did this for months, adding another $30,000 to my down-payment fund. $600 a shift. $1,200 a week. My memories of that time have faded into a nausea-inducing dream of sleepwalking down hospital corridors. My wife tells me that I often fell asleep sitting up at the dinner table.
Moonlighting after training
We closed on our new house a day before I started my first job as an attending physician in a primary care practice at our local hospital. The price tag was higher than I expected. $650,000.
To both my excitement, and utter dismay, similar moonlighting opportunities were available in my new city.
I ran this side hustle for another six months until I was utterly exhausted. Then I was done.
But I will never forget the exhilaration of having such a high earning potential for the first time. I was young, strong, and energetic.
And I needed money.
What would you do?
“DocG” is a physician who blogs at DiverseFI.
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