Doctors shouldn’t have to find side gigs. Here’s why many do.

Thanks to the internet, collaboration has never been so easy.  If you need to learn about how to install a new irrigation system in your lawn, the resources are a few clicks away.  You just need the time and motivation to make happen.  On the medicine front, there has never been a time in the recent past (aside from a failed managed care push in the 1990s) that doctors have been as disgruntled.  Perhaps it’s due to the ease of communication, but I’ve never realized the momentum of doctors out there wanting to find their golden parachute outside of medicine.

Reasons why doctors are unhappy

The sky is the limit as to why doctors are becoming more pissed off at the health care system.  Some of the more common changes contributing to this mentality include:

Lumping doctors into the generic “provider” category.  We all saw it coming: Allied health workers getting all lumped into a single category with the doctor.  While support staff is critical to the function of a medical practice or hospital, there are philosophical, practical, and safety issues with blurring the distinctions among all of the health care workers who touch the patient.  Something doesn’t sit well when the call operator, IT guy, medical assistant, and scrub tech are all “providers” in the system.

Increasing work that’s not related to direct patient care.  Yes, who likes doing online training modules on privacy acts? How about patient satisfaction improvement projects?  Or who wants to chart an extra two hours every day to finish documenting all of the diabetics in their clinic?  Some medical professions are also stuck going over labs that they’ve ordered and calling patients every evening after clinic.  This is where burnout happens — doing all of the things that didn’t require twelve years of medical training.

Ever-narrowing salary range among all health care workers.  Sure, doctors are still compensated near the top of the health care chain (right behind that of administration and C-suite folks), but it’s amazing how much the salary gap is narrowing between doctors and everyone else. We all understand that other health care workers are spending more for their rising cost of education, but anecdotal evidence tells me that it’s not that common for doctors to get raises over a career.  At the same time, physician extenders are being given more autonomy and compensated more (Sorry guys, I’m not throwing anyone under the bus. The problem is with our health care system.)  Several of my colleagues have continually reported having stagnant wages while nearly doubling their clinical volumes over the past decade.

The emergence of the side gig

I’d imagine that the motivation to find a side gig partly stems from the broken health care system and the possibility of no longer relying on our day job to sustain a living.  Many of these side gigs stem from our pre-existing background in medicine; some of them are completely unrelated.  I know cardiologists who have ventured into the restaurant business, and a pediatrician who decided to open his coffee stand at a sporting stadium.  All of these ventures are time-consuming and take energy away from their families.  It impresses me that some of these guys can do this despite having young families or jobs that eat up 65 hours a week.

Many of these ventures turn out to be quite successful.  Some of these guys end up generating enough income to sustain their lives outside of clinical practice, which I assume is the hope for many doctors.  We don’t hear about the ones that end up remaining as hobbies.

Doctors shouldn’t have to find side gigs

Look, it doesn’t matter how you spin it. If you want to be the next Doctor Oz, that’s great. But if your goal during your entire working medical career in medicine is to find an out, something is wrong.  The problem could be you. The problem could be the system.  The problem could be you in the system, and maybe the side gig is your way out.

I have many colleagues who incessantly whine about how horrible their medical practice is.  Maybe the hospital is only giving them an extra $3 per hour for working overnight shifts.  Maybe they are outspending their ability to earn from their day job.

Make sure your side gig has a purpose

Doctors need to have a purpose, whether it’s to come up with the next great product or to cure cancer.  If having a side gig allows you become a better doctor, then that by itself is enough of a reason to venture out. Just be sure that you’re not doing it simply because all of your coworkers are.

“Smart Money, MD” is an ophthalmologist who blogs at the self-titled site, Smart Money MD.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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