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Side gigs for physicians? Really?

When it comes to doctors, the term ‘side gig’ does not reflect the value and importance of these activities, argues Dr. Irith Lebovich.
Dr. Irith Lebovich

An interesting email from Medscape landed in my inbox recently. And the title that caught my attention was Canadian Physicians Engage in Side Gigs for Extra Money, Fulfilment, New Skills.

The main “side gigs?” Speaking at conferences/giving guest lectures, medical consulting, acting as expert witnesses, part-time teaching, reviewing medical cases/auditing, engaging in telemedicine, and medical moonlighting.

The average time devoted? Twenty hours per month—for simplicity, let’s just say the equivalent of a half-day per week.

What fulfilment does it provide? This is what caught my attention the most: 78% of those surveyed responded that their side gig provided more (37%) or as much (41%) fulfilment as their main job.

At a time when healthcare is gripped by burnout, staff attrition and heightened mistrust between healthcare professionals and the institutions they serve, are we paying attention to this finding?

Read: The gig is up: Why more doctors are moonlighting today

Research has shown that workers who are engaged tend to perform better. As famed author Daniel Pink describes in his book Drive, the intrinsic motivation that drives engagement is derived from autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy—having a sense of control over tasks. Mastery—being able to perfect them. And purpose—achieving our deep “why.” 

Aren’t these so-called “side gigs” opportunities to exercise these key components and nurture the intrinsic motivation of a workforce that has become increasingly depleted of morale? A workforce that is finding it harder and harder to walk into work with the same enthusiasm, commitment, and loyalty they once had? 

Colleagues, this is our opportunity to take control. First with words.



Since when are speaking engagements, medical consulting, reviewing medical cases, and telemedicine, etc. “side gigs?”

They are part of what we as physicians do to educate others and learn from each other, enhance patient care and advance our profession. The practice of medicine doesn’t stop at the bedside nor at the research lab.

“Side gigs” give us the sense of autonomy we’re yearning for. They’re opportunities to fill gaps in our training and become experts in our fields. And most importantly, they remind us why we entered the healing profession and ensure that we experience the immense gratification that comes when we live our purpose. 

I left my hospital-based practice nearly two years ago to build Yagrumo, a company whose mission is to infuse a hefty dose of humanity into healthcare. Some would call it a “side gig.” I call it my reason for being and one that checks off all the intrinsic motivation boxes.

You and I understand what we mean by “side gigs,” but hospital administrators, our health authorities and our patients may not. And when they don’t, our work is defined by one main outcome—productivity. Productivity as defined by the number of patients we see and not by the types of interactions that have impact. 

Perhaps it’s time to drop this term and find a better alternative, one that truly represents what it stands for. For now and for many of us, “side gigs” are our lifeline. And maybe, just maybe, and as crazy as it may sound, we should be offered the opportunity and granted the time within our work week to pursue them. 

Dr. Irith Lebovich is the founder and CEO of Yagrumo that offers transformative training for human-centred care, care designed to improve patient experience and outcomes, professional satisfaction and productivity while reducing errors and costs.


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