Why do veterinary professionals feel the need to take on side gigs?

Working on a side business outside the veterinary clinic is common but the reasons for the secondary income varies

Dog walking and pet sitting are among the more popular side hustles for veterinary professionals, but the opportunities are limitless.
Dog walking and pet sitting are among the more popular side hustles for veterinary professionals, but the opportunities are limitless.

Side hustles, part-time jobs, side gigs, and second (or third) jobs are as varied as the people in veterinary medicine. Why do people think they need side hustles? If we are an industry full of burnout and depression, then why on earth would someone have a side hustle requiring more time, not less?

Admittedly, there are many assumptions I challenged during research for this article around side hustles in veterinary medicine. Are people fighting through crushing debt? Are they needing more money to get through a hard time? Do they have toxic bosses who are crushing their opportunities to advance? Are they stuck in the job and hate it so they are biding their time and creating a new income for themselves before they totally burn out?

I decided to dig deeper into the people working side hustles within veterinary medicine and how they view the long-term sustainability of their careers. In particular, could side gigs help people in veterinary medicine sustain their careers by allowing them to make more money and offset their low income currently being earned?

Would a side hustle be a contributing factor causing the burnout? Would side hustles and side businesses be a creative outlet allowing people to be productive and to decompress from veterinary medicine? The responses surprised and encouraged me.

I posted a few questions in manager’s groups, veterinary technician groups, and LinkedIn:

  • What side hustles do people have?
  • Why they work them?
  • How they fit them into their schedules?
  • How do others tolerate their side hustles and the time devoted to them?

Reading responses and having conversations with some of the respondents surprised me, saddened me, inspired me, and encouraged me. The answers were not at all what I thought they were going to be.

The world around us

It is easy to see the world through a lens shaded by the one you have created. The social media environment you gravitate to, your community of friends, and work environment can all influence how you see your circumstances. It is human nature and how we learn.

There is a psychological theory called social proof. Basically, when we have an absence of information about a particular topic, we look to others in our sphere of influence to see what they think so we can form an initial opinion. I happen to fall into a large eclectic mix of people, family, friends, professional colleagues, industry partners, and perfect strangers with something in common with me in some way.

After posting my questions in a few groups, I quickly got responses, and to my surprise, the vast majority of people shared they did, in fact, have a side job in addition to their veterinary jobs.

Out of curiosity, I searched for side hustle statistics. In early 2021, NASDAQ.com shared data from Zapier: “One in three Americans works a side hustle. That number could rise significantly this year as more people explore new gigs and opportunities.”

This number did, in fact, increase as the effects of COVID continued and the employment landscape changed for many. One out of three people had a side job. That’s a lot. How are they doing it? Why? What are they doing that makes the answers to the first two questions worth it?

The variety of the side jobs I was told were all over the map, in and out of veterinary medicine. Here is a list that names a few:

  • Pet sitting/other pet services
  • House sitting/cleaning
  • Yard work
  • Instructor/consultant
  • Jewelry maker/creator
  • Public speaker/presenter
  • MLM businesses
  • Podcast/vlog/blog host

Freedom and control

Side gigs can provide an enjoyable outlet in addition to some extra income.
Side gigs can provide an enjoyable outlet in addition to some extra income.

Income diversity gives people a sense of freedom, even if it is not financial freedom. Side gigs provide a sense of control over what usually is out of any employee’s control, the control over their income despite their primary work situation.

One manager shared she does the yard work at her practice for extra money. She is a single mom and works the extra gig to help earn money to support herself and her kids.

I also communicated with managers and techs who shared the extra money improves their downtime or their quality of life. A manager in Texas got involved with the local rodeo in their town when their children were young. As the kids grew up and moved on, she and her husband decided to stay involved in the rodeo and were later offered paid weekend jobs. They support their vacation cruise habit with their extra income.

I know many who, like myself, enjoy teaching and lecturing on professional topics within the veterinary industry. Several technicians have creative side hustles like macramé and painting because they enjoy the outlet it provides, as well as the bit of money they earn doing it.

DVMs and the side hustle

My experience on LinkedIn was interestingly different.

The majority of the responses I received were from veterinarians who invented a product or created a new business altogether. One DVM invented a phone attachment that adapts to the microscope so you can view and record what is being seen on the microscope onto the smartphone’s screen. He uses this technology to share with clients the images from the cytology samples he takes from their pets. He still owns and works in his practice full-time, and this business venture is a flourishing second business.

This is one such example of seeing a problem or a gap in veterinary medicine and filling it with our own talent to create a product that will serve pets and clients. One heartfelt share was based on an individual’s personal realization that working part-time as a veterinarian and part-time as their own boss, was actually “living their best life.”

The toxicity and negativity they were immersed in within the practice culture were too unhealthy. The window a side hustle opened by working outside the practice, but still in veterinary medicine was the breath of fresh air they were searching for.

When the side hustle becomes the main hustle

The surprising consequence for a few of the respondents was their side hustles became their primary jobs, and now they are not looking back. Personally, I would never object to one of my side hustles taking off and making me a ton of money, but the original intention is to keep diverse sources of income coming in.

Some, but not all, reported their side income permanently replaced their veterinary income. These people reported they ultimately left their practices because they could not balance the hours to build both. Sadly, a few also shared they brought their innovative ideas to their managers and were shut down. One was given an ultimatum to prioritize their employment over any side income-generating opportunities. That person went on to leave the practice and grow their venture successfully.

Some team members shared their practice owners were supportive and innovative right alongside them and found space within the practice where they mutually benefited. One example was a respondent who started a rehab service within a clinic, which went on to become a strong source of revenue for the practice.

Another similar story, with a different outcome, was when a technician created a new revenue stream opportunity. It was supported and initiated, and a small initial raise was given. The innovator shared she worked hard to make it successful, but unfortunately, her pay did not keep up with or reflect the success she was continuing to generate for the practice. She was told they just did not have money for any more raises, but she noticed prices kept going up and more clients getting booked.

She left the practice and started her own service-based business and has replaced her entire income working for herself. There is an argument to be had here in terms of what ideas and innovations belong to the practice and what belongs to the employee. Those answers lie within the deal initially struck, so take caution during those discussions, whichever side of the conversation you fall on.

Assumptions

My assumptions about why so many people in veterinary medicine have side hustles were wrong. The discussion around people in veterinary medicine burning out from low pay and the tremendous strain placed on them daily did not really come up. In truth, I learned people in veterinary medicine opt to begin side hustle for various reasons, but not very many said it is due to pay.

I plan on continuing this conversation, both here and online on various platforms. The plan is to dig into this more for anyone who is interested and looking for a side hustle or for anyone interested learning why people are starting side hustles while employed in a veterinary practice. Please get in touch with us and share your thoughts.

This topic is not going away, and more innovators will be bringing new products, services, and brands to the marketplace, both inside and outside of veterinary medicine. As business leaders, practice managers, and owners, hitching our cart to this talent and supporting their inspiration and innovation may serve the practice in incredible ways.

MY OWN STORY ABOUT THE SIDE HUSTLE

Photo courtesy Rhonda Bell

I have always had side hustles and I am always open to the idea of side jobs or businesses to increase my contribution to our household income. We could not afford childcare for me to work, so it did not make sense for me to do so.

My husband was in the military, and later went on to retire after 20 years of service. We had three young children and one income. I did not work outside the home until my youngest went to school full time. Once I was able to go back to work, I got a part-time job as a veterinary assistant, and I was genuinely thankful for the extra pay.

Working and gaining experience was my biggest challenge as a military wife and young mother. Every time my husband got orders to a new location, I had to start over at a new practice and begin working my way up—again. In some cases, I did not get the job because they knew I was a military spouse and would move on eventually.

This constant state of treading mud was an early indicator I wanted an income source that did not rely on someone else’s job opportunity, or their understanding of the military lifestyle and motherhood. If it was a perfect world, I wanted a side hustle that would become passive income after the initial work and would not really require all my personal time or effort to sustain it.

At the time, the internet was not as commonplace, and it certainly was not fast enough to keep up with business demands, so I did not initially look there for side jobs. I spent time in home-based businesses selling products.

The internet and the ability to market oneself were game-changers. Many people found a way to create their own brands and spaces in and out of veterinary medicine. In fact, during my career, the fact that one or two, if not all, of my co-workers had a full-time job and a side hustle was the norm, but very few had jobs that required the internet. In those days, they were trying to make enough money to pay bills, save a little bit, get through school, or just do a few extra fun things every month.

In my earliest experiences working in the practice, I was asked to pet sit a few times. I have always had fellow colleagues on our teams who pet sit. I know of a handful who developed such a strong following they left work in the practice full time to work their business as a pet sitter. The majority of the ones I am aware of stayed employed and kept pet sitting as a side gig.

Fast forward 15 years, I now primarily work with the practice owners and managers on social media marketing and branding for their practices. These relationships always start with this question, “What do you hope to accomplish on social media?” Then inevitably during our conversations their other brand ideas, dreams, goals, and business ideas come up.

I have always been amused at this turn in the conversation, and I can note at this point this is when I see the spark in their eyes, the creative juices flowing. I also wondered if the desire to have a side gig was more prevalent in those who already had an entrepreneurial spirit? Perhaps it is just a coincidence because I typically talk to the entrepreneurial leaders within a practice.

In thinking about this topic, I began recognizing my friends, family, and colleagues would ask my opinions on their own side hustles, personal, and professional branding when they were innovating a new idea.

Personally, I’m a big proponent of sustainable careers in veterinary medicine and what we can do to help people stay in this field. Recently, I’ve had several conversations with veterinary professionals around professional plateaus and what is next for them in this phase of their careers. Developing a side hustle was a big part of the conversation.

I work in the social media management space within the veterinary medicine industry. I am also a business owner. So, my social media feeds are populated with side hustle topics, business leaders, veterinary practice management, veterinary innovators, and other similar themes, all of which are related to my interests.

I enter into this topic with a few biases. The tone of my feed and the types of information I look for and then see regularly is pro-entrepreneur, pro-veterinary practice ownership, pro-management, but also very pro-individual and innovator.

I promised to share my biases and here is the big one. I have several side hustles for various reasons, but the most impactful reason was born from having to leave my practice management career when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

When I could no longer work the hours, I was forced to retire. This was not the retirement that happens when you have ongoing income from retirement, but more like the non-income type of retirement. I was jobless and with no income. We faced some very scary decisions requiring some huge lifestyle changes amidst a traumatic time of trying to cope with a chronic illness diagnosis with pretty significant side effects at that point.

I started my social media business within six months of the diagnosis. In fact, I filed the legal formation documents within a couple of months because I knew this was not it for me. I also knew I would never be in a position requiring me to “count on an employer” ever again for my income.

A regular paying job would only ever be a part of the income diversity I wanted for myself and my family. I am not alone. There are many others who got sick, injured, struggle with mental illness, or have family constraints forcing them to color outside the thick lines we have drawn around careers in veterinary medicine over the years.

Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP, CDMP, is founder and co-owner of Dog Days Consulting, a social media and brand management company. She spent 15 years as a practice manager working the day-to-day challenges of the veterinary practice and experienced firsthand the stresses, joys, communication dilemmas, and wonders of working in veterinary medicine. She now dedicates her work and energy to helping practices succeed online and to coaching team members with the skills that will prolong and sustain their careers.

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