Why every doctor needs a side hustle

Doctors are impressive individuals. This statement is by no means objective, but this is the truth. ? I’m not even referring to the medical miracles that a decade of training allows us to perform.  Some of the most talented and diverse people I know have primary careers in the medical profession, many of whom have tremendous drive outside of medicine.

Take, for example, the following people I know:

  1. I had a classmate who contributed to the scriptwriting on the set of Scrubs prior to entering medical school.
  2. Another friend of mine patented some special brace for treating scoliosis. In grade school.
  3. Another one of my colleagues once conducted the New York Philharmonic. Over ten times!

All of these people are true hustlers in their own league.  But hey, don’t discount your successes!  The rest of us mere mortals who entered the medical profession, too, have that inner drive that has carried us thus far into our careers.  We opted to become “experts” in our respected fields.  At least several gallons of midnight oil were burnt to get us anointed as medical doctors. We’ve all got the grit to hustle if forced to.


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Physicians are at high risk of burnout.

Imagine signing charts and refilling prescriptions every day for 2 hours after clinic!

Hustling for no good reason but to hustle, unfortunately, can be unhealthy.  You can’t run at 110% all the time.  And medical practice can drive you to go 110% all the time.  Our actions can determine whether someone will be alive or dead, walking or wheelchair bound, blind or sighted. Even the results of cosmetic surgery will impact someone’s physical appearance, self esteem, and livelihood. We deal with high stress situations daily. These actions wear on us. Over time, this can lead to burnout.

Interesting, the term “burnout” was coined by a psychologist in the 1970’s named Herbert Freudenberger.  He was a workaholic who burned out himself.  Stress, fatigue, and irritability…these are the common symptoms of burnout.  We’ve all seen it.  We’ve all had those days, the days where we want to call it quits.

You might also like: How to identify physician burnout: and how to prevent it.

Burnout is prevalent in medicine. Recent studies from the Mayo Clinic and @Medscape have burnout rates for physicians in the 50% range. One study reported that Emergency Room physicians, Internists, and Urologists have a burnout rate of 55%!  Another study reported that Critical Care physicians had the highest burnout rate.  It’s also not just the stress of medicine or long hours that contribute to the burnout; survey respondents report that the increasing amount of bureaucracy and computerization of the healthcare system that are the top offenders. Essentially, many of the tasks that cause burnout are things that we don’t like doing.


You need to have a hobby to avoid burnout.

Just as how the scriptwriter or conductor-turned doctor has diverse interests, we all should have hobbies to fall back to outside of the workplace. These are activities that we can enjoy without the demand of outside influences. Doctors are artists, musicians, athletes, and photographers. These are hobbies and outside interests that got us into medical school, and these are the same solutions to combat burnout.  You don’t have to be as good as Lebron to play basketball either.  Your interests don’t even have to be productive either.  Hell, you can just go read @Corporette or @RealitySteve in your free time and have a blast…I know I do.

The lack of external pressure magically reduces the stress and anxiety of an activity.  I see this behavior with one of the doctors at my hospital. When the administrators mandate us to see additional patients, this doctor refuses, stating that he doesn’t want to see more patients. However, he volunteers on the weekends and in mission trips to care for patients on his own time. Without pay. The truth is that he DOES like caring for patients.  The irony is that he just doesn’t like to get told what to do.  It makes little logical sense, but that is human behavior.

Hobbies can turn into side hustles.

Many of our hobbies are actually full-time occupations for some people. I know several computer programmers who dabble in photography in their free time. Some of them actually are transitioning to full-time photographers, starting with small-time events through Craigslist and then eventually larger venues through word of mouth.

One of the plastic surgeons in my area dabbles in woodworking and produces craftsman-style furniture. Could he dive into this full-time? Absolutely, but I’m sure that he wouldn’t be happy if his livelihood depended on it. However, it is conceivable that he could turn this skill into a side-hustle. Will he do that? Probably not, because he is busy enough correcting ptosis or making people beautiful.

Then there are doctors who really kick themselves into overdrive and basically find ways to make a name for themselves outside of clinical medicine. Some of the more popular routes include becoming a CEO of a hospital, joining an advisory board of a company, and or even becoming a writer.


You just need to do something that makes you happy.

Not everyone dreams of becoming the next @JohnChow or @FinancialSamurai who works on their own time while money rolls in his bank account.  Most of us actually like practicing medicine or law. We just need a break from it sometimes.

You don’t have to be the next Dr. Oz, but finding a way to maintain your sanity will carry you a long way in your career.

What have you all done to find a good balance between work and life?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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