A doctor’s residency is one of the most critical times for gaining experience and building a career. The more patients you see, the more procedures you do, the more proficient at practicing medicine you’ll become. And yet, many residents are overwhelmed by more than just a demanding schedule—most are struggling under a mountain of debt.
After four years of pre-med and four years of med school, most residents are overwhelmed by their student loan payments. In fact, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt balance for graduating physicians—while in decline—was still $192,000 in 2017 .
Since residents only make an average of $54,000 per year, many have to put off their loan repayments until after their residency. Some may even be forced to borrow more to make ends meet. The AAMC estimates that a graduate with around $190,000 in debt could have monthly student loan payments between $1,500 and $2,800 after their residency.
Even despite an already-heavy workload, the pressure of student loan payments can motivate many residents to look for additional sources of income to reduce their debt burden. Some of the most potentially lucrative gigs young doctors can take on are medical moonlighting jobs. In this article, we’ll take a look at moonlighting for medical trainees. We’ll cover how medical moonlighting jobs work, some of the restrictions involved—and the pros and cons.
How Does Medical Moonlighting Work?
Medical moonlighting essentially refers to taking on extra medical work as an independent physician. Residents take on moonlighting jobs to supplement their salaries, pay down student loan debt, and to get additional experience and practice beyond their responsibilities in their residency program.
Most medical moonlighting jobs fall under the category of what’s called “locum tenens” jobs, where you substitute for other medical professionals that are out on leave or help provide additional coverage at hospitals that are temporarily short-staffed. Often, you are able to pick and choose shifts that work with your schedule.
While moonlighting might seem like the perfect solution to financial stress, the policies and restrictions on resident moonlighting can be tricky to navigate. While residents who are licensed physicians are legally allowed to take on jobs providing medical care, residency programs tend to have their own policies on whether residents can take on extra work.
Some programs prohibit moonlighting entirely, while others might limit moonlighting to residents further along in the program. Many programs will require you to get prior permission from a supervisor before you start moonlighting and you may have to formally state your reasons and goals for moonlighting.
Some residency programs allow you to take moonlighting shifts at the hospital facility where you are currently working, but you may be restricted from taking work outside of your hospital network.
In addition to getting approval from your program, you will also want to ensure that your extra work still keeps your total work hours under the Accreditation Committee for Graduate Medical Education’s limits. For safety reasons and to keep residents from being overworked, the ACGME caps all medical trainees’ combined education and work hours at 80 per week. It also requires that one day in seven is free of work and education responsibilities, and that no resident can work more than 24 hours in a row.
If you are interested in medical moonlighting, check out your own program’s moonlighting policy to see what types of opportunities you’re allowed to take on.
What Are the Benefits of Resident Moonlighting Jobs?
Taking on a few moonlighting shifts per month can add up to substantial extra income—especially on a resident’s salary. While the rate can vary depending on the job, most medical moonlighting jobs come with a high hourly rate that can make the extra hours very worth it. Some residents are even able to double their salary by doing so.
Even though the extra cash tends to be the main motivation behind moonlighting, there are other pros as well. For instance, you might be able to get valuable experience that you don’t typically get in your residency program or you may get much more practice with certain skills or procedures.
The extra hours in another area of the hospital—or in another hospital nearby—can give you insight into how other units operate. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to work with many more professionals in the field, expanding your network and potentially your future career opportunities.
What Are the Drawbacks of Moonlighting?
The main drawback to moonlighting is the lost time. As a resident, you’re already working long hours on a grueling schedule while also trying to hone your skills in your chosen specialty. On top of your current workload, even an extra shift here and there can mean you lose out on time with friends and family—or precious sleep.
Taking on too much work can lead to mistakes and high stress levels. If you’re earning extra cash now but the quality of your work in your residency is compromised, moonlighting might not be worth it for you. As a resident, your first job is to learn, practice your skills, and build a foundation for your career. It can be a bit of a balancing act.
An additional caution related to moonlighting relates to medical malpractice. You will want to make sure that each moonlighting job you take on offers quality malpractice coverage. Working through a trusted moonlighting agency that covers its workers appropriately can help ensure that you’re covered.
Other Solutions for Paying Down Med School Debt
For some residents, moonlighting won’t be an option. Their program might not allow it, or the demands on their time are too great already. There are other student loan repayment options for medical residents to keep in mind. For residents who are struggling to make their payments, refinancing medical school loans might be a good solution.
When you refinance your student loans, you are essentially paying off your current loans with a new loan that has a new interest rate and new terms. There are a few benefits to refinancing your loans:
Potentially lower interest rate: Depending on your financial profile, you may be able to get a lower interest rate than you are currently paying on your loans. With a lower rate, you might pay less in interest each month.
Potentially lower monthly payment: In addition to possibly getting a lower interest rate, you may also be able to get a new payment plan that has a lower monthly payment. This could help your cash flow from month to month (but this typically means you extend your term).
Streamline your repayment: When you refinance, you’ll only have one simple loan payment instead of multiple payments. This can make it much easier to make your payment each month (but it could increase the amount you pay overall).
There are some potential drawbacks to refinancing that are worth considering, too. Federal student loans have several repayment benefits such as deferment and forbearance that you would have to give up if you refinanced. Federal loans also have income-based repayment programs and public service loan forgiveness programs that you would no longer be eligible for. However for those who don’t foresee needing those benefits, refinancing your loans may help you get through your repayment faster—and with less stress.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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