Side Gigs for Pre-med and Medical Students

Bryan Miles of Bryan’s Black Bag reached out to me and asked if he could share a guest post detailing some of the side gigs and hustles he’s had in his six years as a pre-medical and medical student.

I read his post and said, “absolutely!”

With some outside the box thinking, Bryan has been making choices to minimize his debt and maximize his future net worth long before many of us started thinking about such terms.

Normally, I would discourage most pre-meds and medical students from doing anything but focusing on their studies and their patients, but Bryan doesn’t describe anything that would take away from those endeavors. And he’s made tens of thousands of dollars, which to me, is astounding.

Let’s hear from Bryan, who happens to attend the same medical school as my maternal grandfather (although it was called Marquette University back when he graduated from the medical school in 1929). Tell us about yourself and your side gigs, Bryan!

 


 

Hey all! My name is Bryan Miles and I am a rising MS3 at Medical College of Wisconsin. Like many of you, my journey too, and now through, medicine has been fraught with frustrations and disappointment, but also satisfaction and elation. The medical hierarchy, while intimidating at times, truly has a pay it forward attitude with respect to education. Therefore, I am sharing my successes and failures with you, both professionally and personally, to allow you to have more of the former and less of the latter.

 

Side Gigs for Pre-med and Medical Students

 

College and medical school are expensive, especially private institutions. Obviously, your first priority is school and building your resume, and then I would recommend focusing on family members, friends, and your own personal well-being. If, and ONLY if, all of that is in order, then perhaps you may be interested in one of the following side hustles. Here are some of the things I have managed to fit into my hectic, demanding schedule.

 

Overnight Asleep Shifts

 

These are absolutely hidden gems. I had a friend enlighten me as to their existence in the first place and am forever grateful. What is better than getting paid to sleep? I figured this was too good to be true, but am thrilled with the results.

During my first year of medical school, I slept forty hours a week at a group home. This translated to four ten hour shifts, each starting at 10 pm and ending at 8 am. I was actually only awake from 7 am to 8 am, doing things like making breakfast or packing lunches. So, in total, I was only awake 4 hours each week of “work.”

set for lifeThe remaining time I truly slept or studied. Facilities like this need around the clock supervision and odds are there will be one and demand near you if you reside in a big city. You will need to feel out the group home residents though. If they are runners, good luck getting sleep.

My second year of medical school, as courses got my demanding, I went down to two shifts a week, or twenty hours. There was also a new group home resident this year with a sad story. He suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and was non-verbal. His only way to communicate consisted of screaming. This made sleep harder to come by, but it did happen and other nights I simply powered through.

Ultimately, if you explain your situation to the interviewer and say that you are paying your way through school and actually need to sleep during the shift, they can give you the low down on the residents. Chances are, there are pretty cushy gigs out there, but you need to define that for yourself.

All in all, I have netted close to $30,000 (at $10/hour this breaks down to $19,200 my first year and $9,600 my second year) pretax, and since I am basically at the poverty line, this is essentially my post-tax earnings as well.

 

Landlording as a Student

 

There is a very big upside to this one, but also the possibility for a financial disaster. That being said, you really, really need to do your homework. This largely boils down to location, location, location.

Honestly, I would not buy a place in hopes of selling it down the road after it has appreciated. Even realtors, who are experts, struggle to predict housing trends. Therefore, why would you be able to? Instead, the smart play is to turn it into a rental.

There are definitely some hurdles to overcome upfront, mostly getting approved for a mortgage, which may require some help from others in a more financially secure position. If they are generous enough to co-sign that is awesome, but even helping with the down payment will go a long way.

Ultimately though, it will boil down to the ratio between your income and debt, which the bank calculates. Ever since the housing crisis, they do not really budge much on these numbers. However, if you clear their inspection, then you are off to the races.

Why is that? Well, unless you buy something well outside your means, your mortgage will very likely be equivalent to or less than what you would have been tossing away in rent. Building equity versus burning rent money is huge! Beyond that though, if you have roommates, they are effectively paying your mortgage for you. [PoF: This is sometimes referred to as house hacking]

Then, upon moving out, if your pursuit of medicine takes you elsewhere, tenants continue to pay your mortgage for you. This is where you really have to do your homework, though.

You need to focus on two things. First, is the location enticing to potential renters (also who are your potential renters)? Second, what will your cash flow look like each month?

bankofamericaYour cash flow is what you net after your expenses. So, basically your rental income minus your mortgage and other expenses, like homeowners association fees (if applicable), private mortgage insurance (something you pay if you put down less than 20%), homeowner’s insurance, and so on. It is imperative you anticipate all of the expenses, otherwise your cash flow calculations are off and you may have set yourself up for a loss each month.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the cash flow does not have to be outrageous. Even if your cash flow is barely positive, you have essentially have your tenants slowly buy your house for you. How awesome is that?!

In conclusion, this is not the opportunity for everyone, as it requires very intense due diligence, but can really get you on the path to financial freedom much, much sooner. Happy house hunting! Side note: do NOT be afraid to live at home if possible. This can save upwards of $15,000 depending on rent in your area, not to mention the interest compounded for several years.

 

Donate Plasma

 

This one is not for the faint of heart, aka those with a crippling fear of needles. You are going into medicine though, so I will assume this applies to the minority. I have donated at BioLife Plasma, which pays $20 for your first visit each week, with another $50 if you come a second time that week.

You can only donate twice in a calendar week and each donation must be at least a day apart. The sessions generally last only an hour. Beyond saving lives, the best part is that BioLife has free Wifi, so studying is an easy possibility. I usually crush Anki decks while donating!

 


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Leverage a Talent

 

You will have to define your talent, but it could be something along the lines of an athletic or musical aptitude. At the very least, your status as a medical student should earn you tutoring gigs, if not for your medical school itself.

Basically, if you are a master at something, or at least well beyond average, then you can likely charge a premium for your services. For instance, I teach tennis part-time and garner $35/hour after the facility’s cut. I have also tutored intermittently, landing $20/hour there as well. You can find these gigs through connections you may already have, advertising your services to the same people, or prowling the depths of Craigslist.

 

Med_School_Side_Gigs

perhaps you have an eye for photography

 

Make your Money Work for You

 

If you have not read Rich Dad Poor Dad, then I highly suggest you do that ASAP. This is the central tenant to that book. There are a variety of different ways to do that, including the landlording example above.

Simpler ones that EVERYONE should be doing though boil down to your choice of credit cards and savings accounts. There are two directions to go with the credit cards, both of which I have done repeatedly.

First, if you have a lot of expenses on the horizon (or really just in general) there are cards that capitalize on this. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (compare this card) gives you 50,000 ultimate rewards points worth $625 for travel if you spend $4,000 in your first three months (at the time this is published).

This breaks down to $1,333 per month, which very likely may be at or below your monthly expenses. Do not go out of your way to spend that money though, because that is certainly not making your money work for you. Only pursue this if you would have those expenses anyway.

I usually end up canceling these types of cards after a year so I don’t have to pay the yearly fees associated with them, which can often be pretty steep. For example, the Chase card has a yearly fee of $95.

[PoF: Personally, I recommend downgrading to a no-annual fee card like Chase Freedom (compare this card) or Chase Freedom Unlimited (compare this card) rather than canceling. Open, unused credit is good for your credit score, as is the length (in terms of time) of your credit history.

I would also consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve (compare this card), which costs more, but much of the annual fee is offset by the $300 travel credit and you get access to dozens of fancy airport lounges. And 50,000 points with this card gets you $750 in travel booking through the Chase portal or potentially more if transferring points to a travel partner. For more info on credit card rewards strategies and how I’ve scored dozens of nearly-free flights (paying taxes only) and a spreadsheet to keep you organized, see credit cards for people who love travel and money.]

Second, I always have a card that gives me rewards, but does not have a yearly fee associated with it. As long as you aren’t getting and subsequently cancelling tons of new credit cards each year then you don’t have to worry about your credit score taking a hit.

Second, look to keep any cash in a high-yield savings account, which will earn you interest approaching 2% in 2018. Some also have signup bonuses.

 

Keep grinding,

Bryan

 

[PoF: Thank you, Bryan, for sharing some of the strategies you’ve employed to make money as an undergrad and medical student. Taking sleep shifts at a nursing home was brilliant! 

You can learn more from Brian via his website, his Youtube channel, and can follow him on Twitter at @Bryans_BlackBag.]

 

 

Did you have a favorite side gig as a pre-med or medical student? Do you anyone else who earned tens of thousands of dollars in the first two years of medical school? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

 

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13 comments

  • Really impressive Bryan that you are able to manage all this and progress through medical school.

    As long as your grades don’t suffer it seems like you found a great way to earn money while the majority of us are accumulating massive amounts of debt during that stage of training.

    Keep up the good work and side Hustle attitude and you are going to be set financially.

    To really make a huge impact in your future I would suggest trying to max out Roth ira accounts during this time as you said you are at poverty level and won’t have to pay much if any tax up front and then can take advantage of years of tax free growth.

    • Thanks Xrayvsn! I have been contributing to a Roth IRA for several years now and we recently upped our annual contribution now that my wife has a salary as an intern, however we are still far from maxing it out. I have always struggled with how much to put into it as it seems to be a balance between incurring more debt in the present, but allowing for more compounding interest in the future. I was going to do some calculations and turn that into another blog piece. Any advice would be welcomed haha!

      • My advice would be to throw all the money you can to maximize the roth ira for both you and your wife. You will be phased out of contributing to this retirement vehicle shortly after becoming an attending (unless you do a backdoor roth) but the key is at this income level your tax hit up front is nothing to where it will be when you do earn a true physicians salary. Then when you take it out decades later everything is tax free.

        The debt you have now is important to get rid of but most likely will not make a huge difference if you live like a resident for a few years and pay it off quickly then. Thus the end of life savings of trying to pay off debt now versus funding roth ira tilts heavily in favor to the latter

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  • I gave plasma through a 2-3 year period toward end of undergrad into first years of medical school. Not many other ways to make $50/hr, burn a couple hundred calories, and study – all at once! Still have the faint round needle scar on my left AC! Great look at some ways to make extra $$$ during those years.

    • Would you believe I donated bone marrow? The University was doing stem cell research when I was a student.

      I got $50 for less than ten minutes, which was a great hourly rate. I did it 5 or 6 times, which was the most they would allow. Didn’t feel great, but as long as they were generous with the local and didn’t pull on the syringe plunger with too much pressure, it was tolerable.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I got a job answering phones after hours for a multi-specialty clinic. I would sit at the phone from 5pm to 11pm. If the phone rang, I would page the doctor on call. Sometimes they would ask me to look for something in the pateint’s chart. I got about 1-2 calls an hour and spent the rest of the time studying. I got paid to study by doing this during medical school.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  • Sounds like a future PF blogger in the making. I love the group home job, reminds me of monitoring the computer lab in the computer science building during college. Get your homework done while watching a bunch of IT nerds who can probably debug their own IT issues better than me.

  • Another interesting side gig that medical students could potentially easily do is enroll in a paid research study or surveys. A lot of them are harmless and you might be paid a few hundred bucks. I never did this, but my wife did a lot of these things when she was in undergrad and law school.

    Also… I think most people will benefit from a cashback card like the Citi Double cash back card that earns 2% with every purchase. There’s no welcome bonus, but it’s a great return for everyday spending. And it earns cash… so don’t have to worry about how to best utilize your points

  • Nice side gigs Bryan.

    During my second, third and fourth year of med school, I worked for the Skin Bank. We harvested skin grafts from organ donors across the city.

    The cases could take a while depending on the location of the hospital but the pay was unbelievable.

  • Gasem

    I killed the MCAT so I got a job teaching MCAT prep to premeds in the college town where my girlfriend lived for a couple years. Got to go see her and get paid to boot.

  • Matthew Sedgley

    I worked as a cast extra on movie sets. They usually don’t start until 3AM in the morning and finished around 6AM, and also included a free breakfast. Pay was $50 a pop.

  • $30,000 to sleep? You my friend are destined for greatness. It is amazing how many side hustles surround us every day. Your medical degree will open the door to even more lucrative opportunities down the road. Anyone with this much ingenuity as a med student will have no problem achieving FIRE as an attending.


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