Exploring a side talent or interest can lead to a broader experience — adding a spark to life and energy to one’s work. That has been the experience of three radiologists at different stages of their careers.
According to Lawrence R. Muroff, MD, FACR, CEO and president of Imaging Consultants, Inc., in Tampa, Fla., developing diverse income streams gives radiologists flexibility in their work. Muroff started off with a second opinion consulting business. He later created high-quality educational experiences for physicians through Educational Symposia — a continuing medical education company he helped found. After years of juggling both clinical and side work, he gave up his position as director of MR, CT, and nuclear medicine at University Community Hospital in Tampa and founded his consulting business — which provides services to radiologists, hospitals, and corporations.
“Having side businesses enables me to do what I want to do when I want to do it,” says Muroff, who notes that he feels a sense of accomplishment from creating a successful business that meets a need or fills a gap and leads to positive interactions and feedback.
Stepping Into Side Businesses
Puneet Bhargava, MD, professor of radiology at the University of Washington, didn’t realize he had started a business until he went to his accountant with his first IRS 1099 form from his work as an editor at the journal Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology. With his accountant’s help, he formed a limited liability company (LLC) that enabled him to take advantage of business deductions on his taxes and additional Solo 401K contributions. He slowly became involved in medical legal consulting work as an expert witness. Soon, he found he had a third line of work: paid speaking engagements on time management, faculty development, and business/leadership.
Bhargava admits he works more hours than some of his colleagues, but he says it’s more than worth it. He notes that his experience as an expert witness made him a better radiologist as it raised his awareness of legal issues and ways to improve his practice, while his speaking engagements and consulting work introduced him to luminaries outside his specialty.
Barry D. Julius, MD, associate director of the radiology residency program at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., agrees. Julius started his blog, Radresident.com, on a whim in 2016. The blog doles out valuable advice and information for residents — including career information, study tips, and information on how to avoid and handle lawsuits. Within the first few months of launching, the blog attracted about 2,000 visitors per month. Now, the blog garners about 16,000 page views and 10,000 visitors per month.
According to Julius, the hour or two he writes each evening, as well as on Sunday afternoons, provide a welcome break from his usual routine. While his hobby pays for itself — through some advertising revenues —he notes that he isn’t in it for the money. He enjoys the interaction and the people he encounters through the blog, and it has turned out to be positive publicity for his hospital’s residency program — which has gained him bonus points at work.
Finding the Right Fit
According to Muroff, it’s not easy to identify a side business that will work for young and early-career radiologists. Unique experience — such as computer science expertise or another advanced degree — can help, he says. Expert reads and second opinion consultations are good options, Muroff points out, since those parlay radiology training to broaden practice.
Before setting up a side business, Muroff advises radiologists to carefully check their employment or partnership agreements. He notes that some practices will claim a part of any earnings, except passive investment income. Bhargava adds that at his institution, faculty obtain pre-approval on a case-by-case basis from the department chair so there is no conflict of interest between the work performed and that of the employer.
According to Bhargava, depending on the type of side business, some physicians may also want to investigate whether they need additional insurance or if their current professional liability insurance covers their work. Bhargava reports that while insurance exists for his side businesses, he has opted not to add this coverage.
Extra income — especially income reported on a 1099 form, instead of the more familiar W-2 — should also precipitate consultation with an accountant to discuss tax implications, notes Bhargava. Radiologists should consider setting up an LLC, which requires filing additional federal business taxes and quarterly income reports/taxes with the state, he says. He also found several tax advantages. According to Bhargava, jointly owning your LLC with your spouse can potentially help increase your tax deferred contributions to a Solo 401k, SEP IRA, or a SIMPLE IRA (depending on how your LLC is set up) — which have higher contribution limits. The IRS small business tax code is written to support small businesses, he says.
But extra income is just the icing on the cake in many ways. Although Muroff, Bhargava, and Julius didn’t actively set out to start businesses separate from their radiology practices, pursuing a side interest has led to work that energizes them and keeps them engaged. “My blog is just the latest incarnation of my pursuit of interests outside my medical practice,” says Julius. “It makes me more excited about what I do on a daily basis. I never know what’s going to come up next.”