The good, bad, and the ugly of being a medical expert witness

I have spent a good part of my career investing time and energy towards side hustles.  I generally categorize them into two distinct types of ventures.  The lazy side hustle involves starting a business or consulting in a field tangential to ones main hustle.  For example, an accountant who works normally as an auditor may do a few tax returns on the side during tax season.  I call his type of work “lazy” because most likely, the professional does not need any extensive extra training on top of what they already have obtained for their primary career.  The non-lazy side hustle, like real estate, usually requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone and learning a new skill or starting a completely unrelated business.

I currently am engaged in a number of different lazy side hustles.  They boost my W-2 income and allow a great deal of freedom and choice when it comes how I spend my time.

One of the most controversial is acting as a medical expert witness.  In order to have a malpractice suit against a doctor, both plaintiffs and defense attorneys need skilled physicians to render opinions about the standard of care related to the case.

Why in the world would someone want to be one of those physicians?

The good

I have been involved in medical expert witness work since the inception of my career.  By nature of my training and practice, I am considered by the court system an expert in internal medicine.  The ultimate lazy side hustle, I was able to jump into this field without any extra training or expertise.  Although, in the beginning, I actively looked for these opportunities, eventually I was getting cold-called by multiple lawyers a year.

There are several positives to doing this kind of work:

  • High reimbursement.  I generally charge $500 per hour with a minimum of 10 hours per case.
  • You learn quickly about charting errors.  It has exponentially improved my documenting abilities in my own practice.
  • It is an opportunity to help elevate the level of the practice of medicine either by defending those who have been unjustly charged or by testifying against those who have breached the standard of care.

Medical expert work has been one of my most lucrative extra gigs, and that’s why it’s featured in today’s side hustle profile.

The bad

Medical expert work has several drawbacks.  The first is that you are asked to judge your peers.  This can often feel uncomfortable and even lead to pushback from your local medical community.  Other doctors may not look upon you as favorably if they know that you are willing to do plaintiffs work.  Many doctors frown on such activity.

Another downside is that you have to be certain of yourself and your beliefs.  There often is a lot of pressure from attorneys to read the records and bend your opinions to their purposes.  As with most things in life, medical malpractice is neither completely black nor white.  If you don’t learn how to maintain the integrity of your opinions, you will quickly lose all credibility or could even be sanctioned by your local state medical board.

The ugly

There is very little in life as stressful as either being the subject of a deposition or giving expert witness testimony at trial.  I have testified several times and am always amazed at how much exhausted I am afterward.  Usually, you are trapped in a room with one or several people who are willing to do whatever it takes to debunk your opinion.

The verbal sparing requires intense concentration.  Often opposing attorneys are not beneath using slight of hand or linguistic tricks to tie you in knots.  There is no law against taking your statements out of context and manipulating them in such a way as to improve their case.

Furthermore, expect to be yelled at, threatened, and manipulated.

It’s just part of the game.

Conclusion

As a physician and a financial independence enthusiast, I can’t imagine life without side hustles.  In this side hustle profile, I highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a medical expert witness.  There are very few ways a physician (or another professional in a technical field) can earn such a high fee per hour of work.

Is it stressful?  Yes.

Is it time-consuming?  Sometimes.

Will I continue this side hustle in the future?  I’m not sure.  Although the money is good, I have been trying to reduce my stress levels.

“DocG” is a physician who blogs at DiverseFI.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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