Obstacles Physicians Face in Pursuing a Side Hustle

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The idea of a side hustle seems to appeal to most people I talk to. It’s a great way to learn new skills, supplement your income, and build streams of passive income — all without quitting your day job. And as evidenced by the discussions in our Facebook group, many physicians also love the idea of a side hustle and gaining passive income. Honestly, who doesn’t?

However, despite their apparent desire to pursue a side hustle, plenty of obstacles seem to stand in the way for physicians. The same issues seem to pop up again and again, keeping many physicians from realizing their passive income potential. Here are some of the big ones, as well as some things to consider about each.

Not Enough Time

We already feel overworked as physicians. Residents are working 60-80 hours and attending physicians’ hours don’t seem to be much better. Even when we’re not seeing patients, we’re spending an extraordinary amount of time on paperwork. Many barely make it home to see their families in the evening. How can we possibly find time for a side hustle? There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

I started with this one because it seems to be the biggest challenge in the physician life – finding time to not only be a physician but also to pursue other meaningful things. Therefore, this is an entirely valid argument. However, for many of us, if we take a hard look at our daily routines, we might just be able to create some more time.

How do we do that? Well, one thing I’ve mentioned is to perhaps find ways to outsource activities and errands that we don’t enjoy, in the form of paid help, like a virtual assistant or someone from TaskRabbit or Fiverr to perform a service.

Another way is to perhaps reprioritize how you’re spending some of your time. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t binge-watch Game of Thrones or Black Mirror, but how you spend your time reveals where your priorities lie. If it matters to you, you’ll find time for it.

Not Worth the Money

Despite steadily dropping reimbursements, physicians consistently top the lists of highest salaries in the U.S. We make a decent living. Are there really side hustles that exist that provide anywhere near the amount we’re making as physicians? Can a side hustle provide the kind of financial security that we’re looking for? Why even start a side hustle when you can just work a little more as a physician and likely get paid significantly more?

Another valid point, especially when starting a side hustle. It’s true – many of us will not be able to find side hustles that compensate us as well as our physician salaries do.

However, it’s also true that we as physicians are trading precious time for money. There is very little opportunity to scale our income, meaning that in order to make more, we have to put in more time. But with some side hustles, the opportunity to scale is there, and ideally, these side hustles will lead to truly passive income. Just check out my True Doctor Stories for examples of physicians who have found some of those profitable side ventures, like this one of Dr. Jim Dahle.

Sure, that stream might be a trickle at first, but the income potential in some of these side hustles is limitless. One day, they may even make your physician salary look small.

Not Enough Expertise

As physicians, we’re trained for one specialty. Even if we want to venture out, medical school doesn’t prepare us for the realm of business, and many of us don’t know where to start or what to do. Our path to our specialties has been pretty clear-cut – get into residency, do a fellowship, and get a job.

The truth is, many successful business owners had little to no expertise in their exact business sector. They just figured things out as they went. They googled things, they found mentors, they tried and failed. But they got back up every time. Just listen to the How I Built This podcast, and you’ll hear amazing stories of entrepreneurs who started with just an idea. Largely through trial and error, they figured it out and formed multi-million dollar companies.

Having a base of knowledge is great, but it’s not a necessity or indicator of success with a side hustle in any way.

Too Much Risk

Physicians are fairly risk-averse people. Everything we do in our daily lives involves a risk-to-benefit analysis. In fact, many of our clinical decisions are made to minimize risk, not necessarily for maximum benefit. This carries over into other parts of our lives, particularly when it comes to investing or having side hustles. Many of us fear that the risks simply outweigh the benefits and that keeps us from starting a side hustle.

However, perhaps we should be considering the risks of inaction. The real risk is doing nothing and expecting medicine to give us the lives we want, whatever that means to you. Is it possible that you could fail? Possibly. But how would your life and the lives of your family be improved if you were no longer dependent on trading time for money?

Too Tired

Being a physician can be mentally and physically draining. You give so much and at the end of the day there just isn’t much left in the tank for anything else. The last thing you want to do is think about another venture and have it keep you up all night. Those trying to juggle family and jobs feel the exhaustion on a daily / weekly basis.

In the selection process known as “Hell Week”, Navy Seals are pushed to the point of complete exhaustion and then are pushed harder. They force people to tap out. However, those who ultimately make it into this elite force are the ones who find that extra determination when everyone else is giving up. They realize strength they didn’t know they had.

Ultimately, I think this is part of what separates those who successfully create side hustles and those that don’t. Every successful entrepreneur seems to have a story where they were pushed to the edge and perhaps thought of giving up but endured. It may not be easy to dig and find that extra motivation and energy, but for those that do, it could be worth it in the end.

Don’t Want the Distraction

Physicians have to devote a lot of time, energy, and brainpower to excel in their fields. The last thing they want is something that takes away from that. Being a physician requires constant studying and staying up to date on current literature. Have a side hustle could be a distraction from being the best physician that you can be and the desire to be as well.

It is possible that a side hustle can be a distraction. I’ll be honest, when I leave work, my thoughts immediately turn to my family first, then side hustles second. I try really hard not to let any side hustle take away from my day job.

Although when I leave work, I love the fact that I have something else to focus on. In some way it may not be healthy to always have the day job on the mind. I’ve found that these side hustles are an amazing way to stretch and use different parts of my brain that I may not have used before. It keeps my day job fresh in a way because I’m not always fixated on it.

Then again, it’s all about priorities. If your day job demands all your focus and if that’s where your priorities are, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that perhaps a side hustle isn’t right for you.

Conflict of Interest

Physicians are bound by ethical and moral rules to do best by the patient. It’s important for these potential conflicts of interest to be recognized so that decisions for patients are made appropriately.

If a side hustle you’re considering does contain a conflict of interest, then it’s probably best that you figure out how to deal with that ASAP – by either quitting your day job or quitting your side hustle. There are many, many ways to accomplish the passive income dream without causing any undue stress and conflict.

Lack of Inspiration

Many people love the idea of having a side hustle but can’t figure out which one to pursue. Nothing seems to fit within their passions, or perhaps nothing seems to gel with their personality. All that brainstorming seems to only lead you to dead ends.

In reality, sometimes finding that first idea is the hardest part. However, there are ideas all around. Perhaps expectations are keeping you from honing in on one. Maybe you’re waiting for the perfect idea. But the “perfect idea” doesn’t exist. It’s very, very unlikely that a single idea will be one that you’re perfectly interested in, have a passion for, have expertise in, and makes a lot of money without any effort.

The best thing is to grab at an idea and make it into the perfect idea. Shape it the way you want, even if it doesn’t appear perfect at first.

Is a Side Hustle in Your Destiny?

I’ll be the first to admit that having a side hustle is not necessarily for everyone. But it’s also true that everyone can have one. It’s just a matter of having the right mindset, making it a priority, committing, and just going for it. If it fails, get back up and try again. Many successful entrepreneurs have failed miserably, and they credit that failure for making them the massive successes that they are.

If you think having a side hustle can make a positive difference in your life, you have to ask yourself: are you letting obstacles and roadblocks get in the way? If so, identify them and overcome them. You’ll be glad you did.

What are some of the obstacles you face in having a side hustle?

20 COMMENTS

  1. I find that with a side hustle that you truly enjoy, you don’t mind not making as much as your day job. And it actually helps you be more productive in your day job if have something on the side you do that’s fun. And in a lot of cases having a side hustle that you wrap around a legal cocoon like an LLC is less risky than working as a professional like a doctor or accountant.

    • Tyler, I totally agree. For years, my “side hustle” was an orphan care organization (shapingdestiny.org), that I started a couple of months before ai started medical school and by the time I graduated, It had grown to be helping hundreds of kids in Cameroon each year. While I continue to do that free of charge and have built a team of passionate volunteers that I work with, It wasn’t until about 7 years into my completely volunteer Orphan Care hustle that I thought of actually doing a side business hustle. I registered my LLC and after many trials and errors, I’m beginning to make a little passive income. In the last 3 years, have made 20-25K from passive income while in residency.
      Even though I’m not even near my goal yet, I’m definitely a believer that its possible.
      Like you Tyler, I’ve seen that many of the skills learned both from my non-profit and for-profit hustles actually make me a better physician. They also help me with my family because my wife and I are involved in doing it. I can’t wait for my 6 and 8-year-old to get involved. We are already doing little projects here and there together. I think side hustles can be something that I bond with family doing, something that touches the world and leaves us better off as well.

  2. Most of the listed reasons apply to me. I already travel a lot for work so when am home, I just want to relax, cook, and spend time with the husband. That extra side income is not worth it, esp since I’d get taxed anyway. A physician’s salary is enough as long as I know how to live below my means, esp with the student loans already paid off.

    • Unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day. I initially thought that the side income might not be worth it until I heard stories of friends that were doing so well with their side hustles that it created more time to spend with family doing the things they love.

  3. I think side hustles are the spice of life. For Docs, “lazy” side hustles are ideal. These are side hustles that use your expertise and knowledge as a physician without needing extra training. Directorships, medical expert work, telehealth. The possibilities are endless.

  4. I think this list reflects most of my reasons (err excuses).

    My main ones are time, lack of training (to be really good) and the bother of maintenance once the fun of starting something wears off and I realize I never needed the money (no thanks real estate).

    One main obstacle is lack of training, specifically to be good, that is really good. Physicians dont take a first job until we are trained to be really good, so some of us dont feel comfortable failing our way around a new endeavor.

    I still want a side hustle mainly because of my desire to build something. The income wouldn’t be the prime motivation. I’ll be totally, undeniably and wonderfully financially independent before I start the side thing in 3-5 years, which will coincide nicely with my kids starting school and freeing that chunk up.

    • If you’ve already got the path to FI in 3-5 years figured out, sounds like the side hustle is totally optional. I usually talk about having a side hustle to help achieve freedom, but in your case it’ll go the other way around.

  5. My thoughts are that a side hustle is good when it is an activity or passion that a physician would do and continue doing even if money were not guaranteed.

    Let’s face it, there is no reason why a physician “needs” the extra income of a side hustle. Can it speed up the path to debt payoff or financial independence? Sure. But honestly, the best way for a physician to earn extra money is to do extra clinical work, and financial independence is definitely achievable soon enough on a physician income alone.

    I guess my point is that we as physicians should not be interested in a side hustle just for the extra earning potential. It would probably not be a good idea to start your own real estate business on the side if you do not like the “hustle” of real estate. This kind of extra work may only lead one to be more susceptible to burnout on their clinical job. On the other hand, if one really enjoys the work involved in something like coaching a sports team on the side or giving lectures, and would do it for free, thats a good side hustle. Any money earned is just a plus, and the sky is always the limit when you are working on something you’re passionate about

    • I’m a big believer that you never know what you’ll enjoy until you actually try it. It’s kinda like my kid who says she doesn’t like a certain food, I make her try it, and next thing you know it’s her favorite food. I find that happens with a lot of different opportunities and ventures in life. I mean, that’s how I found my specialty, never had it on the radar, tried it for a week and loved it. So I encourage everyone to try different things and see what sticks, if any. You’re right, no one should force it though.

  6. I”m so happy I discovered this website. For years I’ve had small side hustles but I felt ashamed and did not share with others that I frequently seek business opportunities outside of my work as a physicians. I feel so encouraged now that not only is this good for me, but but I should continue to seek something beyond medicine. Thank you!

    • That’s awesome, thank you. I don’t think anyone needs to hide the fact that they have different interests and ambitions in life outside of medicine. The great thing is that I feel it’s a lot more celebrated today than even when I first graduated from residency. Keep it up, and good luck!

  7. …not to mention that if you have a traditional tax-deferred IRA, or, if you are terminating a retirement plan like a 401k and need to roll it over, you can roll it over to your solo 401k instead – leaving available the ability to invest $5500 or $6500 every year into a (‘backdoor’) Roth IRA w/ no taxes incurred. I am a retired DDS and do a side hustle (tutoring) for just several hours MONTHLY. In my case the side hustle is 100% for the ability to control my former pension plan and, along with my wife, to invest $13,000/yr into Roth.

  8. Nice summary of the objections. When I began investing in real estate, and managing it myself, I heard a lot of these excuses from those around me that heard what I was doing. They all wanted to tell me why it wouldn’t work for them. 15 years after I began, the real estate was producing enough cash flow for me to never have to work again. I never thought of it as a side hustle, I thought of it as my retirement plan.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  9. Here is another one, restrictive visas!!
    Docs on a visa cannot start businesses or get any 1099s due to active work/blog etc (1099s from stocks etc. are okay I believe) and may not qualify to start businesses for decades. (correct me if I am wrong).

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