Non-clinical income can be a key strategy to achieve financial freedom. It can also help you develop skills that serve your personal and professional growth in many ways. Expert witness work enabled me to leverage my skills and knowledge as a physician to reenergize my clinical work and my life outside medicine. Now I dedicate my time teaching other physicians and allied health professionals to find similar success and how to launch and build an expert witness practice.
Become a Knowledge Expert
As an expert witness, you typically review potential medical malpractice cases for plaintiff or defense attorneys and give an opinion as to whether the actions taken were above or below the standard of care. Your opinion is based on your training, experience, and education, but medicine is a dynamic field where knowledge changes over time.
By supporting your expert opinions with literature and resources—including specialty consensus guidelines, professional committee publications, and medical literature—your knowledge base will benefit your patient care and make you a valued go-to resource for your professional colleagues.
Promote Your Professional Skills
As an expert, a lawyer may call you out of the blue and ask if you can review a medical malpractice case. Communicating your skills in a concise manner (i.e., “the elevator pitch”) is important. This isn’t as easy as it seems when society love-hates the “humblebrag.”
First, identify your areas of clinical strength. Next, practice saying your pitch succinctly and with an appropriate measure of confidence. Note that these skills are just as important when talking with patients and family members about how you can help them as they are in the legal arena.
Finally, craft a CV that accurately conveys your professional accomplishments. This is a valuable tool not only in expert witness work but in pursuing other opportunities in and out of medicine.
Expand Your Professional Niche
Expert witness work can help you identify areas in your specialty in which you could develop a niche and enhance your knowledge. For example, after receiving several inquiries about pulmonary nodules and alleged missed lung cancers, I dove deep into the topic of CT lung cancer screening using resources from my professional specialty society that now help me do my routine clinical work even better and offer added value as a specialist in my practice.
Doctors make the most errors in the middle of the night and when fatigued. I used to pick up weekend shifts to make more money but at the cost of personal time to rest, rejuvenate, and spend time with my kids. A side gig with flexible hours lets me supplement my income at the right time of day for me without moonlighting at crazy hours. Bonus: less exhaustion leads to better patient care.
Diversify Your Income, Reduce Burnout
Additional income from side gigs like expert witness work can reduce physician burnout by providing financial security and reducing stress. Being able to stay in your clinical job is typically a good financial move long-term. Income from expert witness work can fund a separate retirement account and provide financial advantages beyond supplemental income.
Finally, expert work is typically highly compensated ($500-$900 per hour depending on physician specialty). It’s hard to find another side gig that makes it possible to earn a six-figure salary on 3-4 hours work per week.
Learn from Others’ Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a lot less painful to learn from others’ mistakes instead of your own. In the 140-plus cases in which I’ve served as an expert witness, I have seen patterns emerge that make medical errors or bad outcomes potentially more likely. I watch vigilantly for these in my clinical practice and do what I can to mitigate that risk and practice the best medicine I reasonably can.
Accept That No One Is Perfect
We physicians set impossibly high expectations for ourselves. Having perspective is key to accepting that your best efforts are just that—the best you can do, not perfection (because there is no such thing!).
Serve as an Impartial Witness
There’s a reason you’re called an expert witness—the job is to objectively review information in a medical malpractice case and use your experience, skills, and training to evaluate if the course of action was reasonable based on what most physicians would do in similar circumstances. (That’s a loose definition of “standard of care.”)
But taken one step further, serving as an expert witness enables you to become a thought leader in medicine with a broad and deep fund of knowledge. This perspective will help you mature as a physician, and it could inspire you to pursue leadership positions, serve on advisory committees, or find other ways to advance the profession of medicine and be more personally fulfilled.
I find it incredibly rewarding to network with other physicians and experts and to know that my work makes a positive difference for the medical profession and for my life personally.
How has expert witness work helped you professionally and personally? Comment below!
[Editor's Note: Dr. Gretchen Green is a radiologist with a thriving expert witness business and the creator of Expert Witness Startup School, a comprehensive how-to online course that teaches physicians how to launch and build an expert witness practice. WCI has an affiliate relationship with Expert Witness Startup School. However, this is not a sponsored post. This article was submitted and approved according to our Guest Post Policy.]