Intended for healthcare professionals

Careers

Can I have a side hustle as a doctor?

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q1136 (Published 03 June 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q1136
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

There are ways that doctors can use their skills outside of medicine without compromising their professional ethics, Abi Rimmer hears

Act with honesty and professionalism

Ellie Mein, Medical Defence Union medicolegal adviser, says, “MDU hears from many doctors who are considering additional ways to generate income to counter the cost-of-living crisis. Examples include working as a social media influencer, carrying out cosmetic procedures, and producing educational material.

“When formulating a business plan for any side hustle, it can be helpful to consider some ethical and legal aspects. General Medical Council guidance stresses the need for doctors to continue to be professional and maintain public trust. In specific social media guidance,1 it says that ‘if you use social media to advertise your services, or use your professional position to promote or endorse any other services or products, you must be open and honest about any interests you have that may influence (or could be seen to influence) the recommendations you make.’

“It adds, ‘You must also comply with relevant law, guidance, and regulatory codes including those from the Committee of Advertising Practice, the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Competition and Markets Authority.’

“If you’re carrying out cosmetic procedures you should recognise and work in the limits of your competence, keep up to date, and maintain and improve the quality of your work. Junior doctors need to be aware of approved practice setting requirements.2 If you’re on a UK training programme and subject to the requirements, any work outside of this must be discussed with your educational supervisor.

“When providing educational material such as revision notes to a third party, consider how to ensure the notes are accurate and up-to-date and whether there’s a risk of copyright infringement if based on textbooks or lecturer notes.

“Whatever work you’re doing outside of your day job, you need to act with honesty and professionalism, maintain confidentiality, ensure you have appropriate indemnity, and work within your sphere of competence.

“See MDU’s advice on being a social media influencer3 or offering cosmetic procedures4 for more information.”

You’ll need determination

Fearne Hill, consultant anaesthetist and author of queer romance, says, “I devoured stories growing up. Then a medical career took over and scientific texts replaced novels. Children came along—there is no more sombre enemy of art than the pram in the hallway. Concentrating on exams, family, and career, my passion for stories was put on hold.

“Fast forward a few years and, bored of watching and reading other people’s stories, I wrote my own. On a whim I sent one to an American publishing company. They accepted, my hobby became monetised, and I now have over a dozen books in print and more on the way. In 2023 my novel Two Tribes was a Lambda literary award finalist.

“Both careers fulfil me, but in different ways. Caring for patients is a huge privilege, yet, as every doctor knows, the rewards come with heaped side servings of stress and responsibility. Writing romance novels takes me away from that. My creative side has the freedom to run wild, to revisit that part of the brain that doctors all too often close down.

“Ethically, I don’t believe that having a second career need be a source of conflict—providing patients, colleagues, and events are not identifiable. Both lives remain separate and my side hustle doesn’t impact negatively on my hospital work.

“It is feasible to run a second career alongside a medical one—but it requires buckets of determination. My medical career made me resilient, and juggling three sons and the demands of training forced me to be organised and disciplined—invaluable skills for running two careers in tandem.

“I’ve learnt to make every second count. If I’m not working in the hospital or with family and friends, I’m writing, editing, or marketing. I don’t watch television, I’ve rescinded major non-clinical roles. My house is untidy, and I’m a very average cook.”

Medicine provides transferable skills

Laura Sheldrake, salaried GP, training programme director, and director of Tadorna Limited, says, “Incorporating a side hustle alongside a medical career is feasible as many specialties offer flexibility. My husband and I are both doctors and we own a property company.

“As long as other sources of revenue don’t interfere with your role, we’ve found that colleagues and patients are more than comfortable with this. Most people are surprised we can find the time. We are aware that as doctors our ethical and legal approach is potentially open to a higher level of scrutiny and so we invest a lot of time in understanding legislation and ensuring the interactions of our business are beyond reproach.

“The additional income has provided us with increased financial security, which not only provides a buffer with changing healthcare landscapes but also—after the initial groundwork and putting the right systems in place to produce passive income—allows us freedom in how we spend our time and greater lifestyle choices.

“Beginning with single buy-to-let renovation, we are gradually expanding our portfolio to larger scale, higher yield projects. We are currently converting terraced houses into high end, co-living spaces. These larger projects have enabled us to offer substantial returns to investors, fuelling the growth of our company.

“Ultimately, our goal is to use our property portfolio for supported living, providing beautiful spaces for the most vulnerable. We are passionate about the influence our surroundings have on us, and it feels great that we will be able to make a meaningful difference.

“Our careers in medicine have given us the ideal skill set for this industry. Negotiation, project management, and teamwork in property rely on the ability to understand the position of others and reach a compromise, much like interactions in medicine.”