By Phil West, WCI Contributor
When you’re going through medical school, you're obviously investing in your future. It’s one of the most important times of your life, and it’s also one of the most demanding times of your life, requiring long hours and lots of studying. And yet, it’s also likely to be a period of your life in which you're not earning all that much money. That might lead you to wonder how to make money in medical school, especially if you're worried about your future student loan debt.
Perhaps the best advice we can give on how to make money in medical school is “don’t.” Medical school is the key to your future, and it’s going to take a lot of your time and energy. It’s best for you to focus on that as much as you can. But the truth is that there are times in medical school when a bit of a side gig is probably OK for students who are not struggling with the academic load. These include the summer between your first and second years and the latter half of your fourth year. Certainly don't try to work while on your third-year surgery and OB/GYN rotations!
Should You Try to Make Money in Medical School?
The Urban Institute advises undergraduate college students that “although working part-time—up to 15 hours a week for full-time students—does not damage a student’s academic performance, working full time or close to full time is likely to interfere with studying and timely graduation.” And that’s for undergraduate students, who generally have less intensive studies than those in medical school.
We've written about this topic in the past in an article called “The Best Side Gig Is Spending Less.” In many cases, people arrive at the idea that they’re not making enough money because they’re spending more than they should be. It’s possible that you have enough money coming in for your current situation, and if you curtail spending some, you’ll be in a fine spot while you’re at medical school and working on your future earning potential as a doctor.
As Dr. Jim Dahle wrote in that article, because of taxes, if you have a dollar you’ve saved, that’s a full dollar. That's different than earning a dollar, which is not actually a full dollar because of the taxes you'll have to pay on it. That is to say, “a penny saved is two pennies earned.” Dahle also pointed out that there’s not ever truly a passive income source—that everything that helps you earn money will take time—so if you’re saving your money instead of earning extra money, you’re also getting more time back in your life. It's time that you’ll need for studying or maintaining your own wellness!
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Side Gigs While in Medical School
If you are interested in side hustles, here are some options for those in the medical field. There are some intriguing possibilities there, especially once you have your medical degree. Once you do that, doors like telemedicine, teaching, and medical consulting can open up for you. Some possibilities that are available to medical students include research (including being a test subject), doing H&Ps for surgical centers, donating plasma (or other bodily fluids), being a medic, or even clerking on a ward or in the ED.
While there are some possibilities on the list you could manage while you’re in med school, the important thing to remember—as we've previously pointed out—is that taking a gig that pays less per hour than your main job will actually reduce your per-hour earnings. This should be part of your calculations.
One side hustle that’s not on our list that you might be contemplating is using your car to make money. Working for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, delivery services like DoorDash or Instacart, or even getting on board with Amazon with its new Flex service can seem tempting, and there are some advantages to engaging in that kind of work.
For instance, you do get to “select” your own hours—in that you can get onto the platform when you want—and if people need rides or deliveries, you can take those as your schedule allows. In some cases, like with Lyft, drivers are incentivized by bonuses for driving at certain times of the day, depending on how much demand there is. That means that what might normally be work that comes to $20 an hour could be $30-$40 per hour for a certain stretch of the day.
But there are certainly caveats here. You’re responsible for paying taxes on the money you make from those gigs, and you also have some immediate and hidden costs you’ll incur with your car. (What you use in gas is an immediate cost; the miles you rack up leading to less time between oil changes, tire changes, and other car maintenance is a hidden cost.)
Medical school is a time in which to live lean, knowing that the rewards will come later. Our suggestion is to live as frugally as you can and to be smart about any extra work you take on. Time is a commodity you want to guard as closely as you can throughout your life, and medical school is a time when that’s especially true. Remember, if you don't complete medical school, get your MD, and match into your desired specialty, you won't be in a position to make an attending salary anyway.
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