Starting a Side Hustle as a PA: Part 1

This isn’t your typical topic for the physician assistant profession, but it’s one I get a lot of questions about. So today I’m telling you about my experience building a side hustle as a PA. In part 1, I’m discussing what lead me to this journey and how I got started. In part 2, I’ll give you some practical tips and resources if it’s something you’re considering as well.

I love my job as a PA. I love the profession. But I’ve never felt comfortable with 100% of my income coming from an employer. Even though our profession has continued to be very stable, COVID in particular has revealed we are not immune to layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs.

I’ve talked about following the Dave Ramsey plan before. Dave talks about how most wealthy people have multiple streams of income. I don’t dream of becoming a billionaire, but my financial peace includes knowing if I were to lose my job tomorrow, my eggs aren’t all in one basket. While many PAs including myself work PRN for extra income, it still isn’t something that I have complete control over.

Two years ago I went on maternity leave for 12 weeks. I was looking for a creative outlet to have fun during my leave, because I’m really bad at sitting still. I also wanted something new and refreshing to keep me from burning out in my clinical job. If my new project was something I could make money off of, great. But my initial goal was truly to find a creative hobby.

I’m a PA, but also a registered dietitian and have a strong interest in health and wellness. I also love writing, being a mom, gardening, and trying to live sustainably. So I started a wellness and nutrition blog, writing about health topics, recipes, sharing my experiences as a mom with four kids, and my amateur attempt at homesteading in our farmhouse on 4 acres. I still post to that page and it’s still very much my fun, creative outlet.

There was a learning curve to starting a blog. My husband is a web developer, so when I told him my idea, he built a site on WordPress for me. But I learned quickly there is much more involved in running a successful blog than getting a website up and running. I dove into learning all I could. I was fascinated by the world of online education, social media, entrepreneurship and digital marketing. I tell people I got an online MBA through podcasts that year. I spent hours learning about influencers, marketing strategies, and email lists.

I figured out early on I wasn’t interested in using these strategies for my blog. The online nutrition space is a vast world of fad diets and pseudoscience. Some of it’s ok. A lot is bad. Really bad. In order to gain followers or sell a product, you have to make big promises. I knew telling people “Exercise to feel good, try to eat right but don’t stress too much about it, and learn to focus on your health and how you feel instead of your weight” probably wasn’t going to gain a lot of followers. I decided it would simply be my hobby, which it still is.

I then started thinking of other ways I could apply my newfound interest in online entrepreneurship to another project. When I went back to work at my family medicine job after maternity leave, I was still trying to come up with an idea for an online business. Then one day, it hit me – I think there’s room for PA education in the online space.

I’ve precepted PA students for years. I really enjoy educating and helping students navigate PA school, and mentoring them in the early stages of their careers. I’m not so far removed from PA school that I don’t remember the struggles. I particularly remember trying to get my hands on as many practice questions as I could, especially towards the end of the program when I was taking EORs and preparing for the PANCE exam. I also remember being frustrated at the price of these products.

Right after graduating, I went to a board review course which cost hundreds of dollars in course fees and travel expenses. I sat for 8 hours a day for 3 days while people read PowerPoints. If you’re considering a board review course, let me tell you the ONLY thing of value I received were copies of the PowerPoint outlines (which cost extra to have printed) and three 60-question practice exams with answers and explanations. Other review courses and question banks, even online products, cost hundreds as well.

I thought, “That’s it, I’m going to make practice questions for PA students.”

I was extremely late to the Instagram party. I’m on the tail end of Gen X right where it crosses over Millennials. In fact, I think I get the choice based on which one I resonate most with. My @villagefarmlife Instagram page (for my personal blog) pretty much includes my family and friends. So believe me when I say no one was more surprised than me when I started the @allthings_pa_c Instagram account and grew it to more than 20,000 followers in one year.

Eventually I would want to monetize All Things PA-C. What that looked like wasn’t clear in the beginning, nor was it a priority. I knew before I could even think about making money, I would need to build a community, and serve them well. I also knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Online businesses and influencers may make it look easy, and there are probably some that just smile for the camera, activate the swipe up feature and make thousands of dollars every day.

But the vast majority who are financially successful work very hard behind the scenes. There are accounts with 10,000 followers that make millions, and accounts with 100,000 followers that can’t make a dime. There’s so much more to it than people realize.

I decided I would post practice questions, and other interesting facts and resources for pre-PAs, PA students, and practicing PAs. Education experts and psyshometricians (scientist who study test-taking) say it can take 45 minutes to draft a good multiple choice question. As I do when I become interested in something, I dove head first into the science of writing test questions. I also researched almost all other PANCE and PA resources on the market to see how good other products were and where there were deficiencies.

I went to an item-writing workshop and learned so much about the process of test creation and how questions for the PANCE are written. While it doesn’t take me 45 minutes a question, drafting them was a time-consuming task. I won’t go into the details here, but my questions are quality. I use multiple up-to-date resources and all topics come from the NCCPA PANCE content Blueprint. Questions are written in the same format and follow the style guide of the PANCE. Not every source out there, even the more expensive ones, can say that.

I set a goal to post one practice question and one interest post every day for one year. I can’t tell you how many times over the next 365 days I hated being someone who follows through with personal goals. But I did it. 740 posts, 365 of those being practice questions, from March 2019 to March 2020. And again, these weren’t just cute flashy photos, they were questions and posts that took time to create and edit. This was to serve my followers. When I eventually did have a product to sell, I wanted people to know they could trust me.

About half way through the year I decided my first product would be a PANCE practice exam. The questions were so popular and I knew there was a need for an affordable resource like this. So that’s what I did.

I had a little help editing and polishing the questions from another PA and had a small beta group of Instagram followers who took the test for free in return for edits and feedback. My husband helped me with the tech stuff – setting up the landing page, delivery automation, credit card processing, etc.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but the product has gone over very well. I’ve received some great feedback and testimonials from people who used it as study resource during their clinical year or before taking the PANCE.

I’m sure if I calculate the time I put into all of this and figure out dollar per hour, I’d probably cry. My husband has helped me a lot through this. Without his skills I would’ve had to pay to outsource a lot of “techy” things, or spend many hours trying to learn it. The only disagreement we had was over the price of the practice exam. He recommended that I charge more based on the time and energy to develop it, plus the market costs of similar products. But I wouldn’t budge. One of my core values from the beginning was to make AFFORDABLE resources, and I wanted to keep the price of this first product low.

The best part about an online product is, once up and running, there’s potential for passive income (the ability to make money even when you’re not working). I knew that if the product was good, I could price it low enough for students to afford it and still make money.

I’m certainly not quitting my job and moving to the beach anytime soon, but I’ve made enough money and had enough fun to realize I want to keep going. My current project is working on a large question bank. Soon PA students won’t have to spend $500+ for access to practice questions! I’ve also learned a large number of my followers are pre-PA students, so I’m looking at ways to serve them as well. I still work full time and love my job, but it’s recently become very demanding and I need this creative outlet now more than ever.

@theandreabenedict is a PA and founder of Medthusiast. She talks a lot on her account about being an entrepreneur and running a side business as a PA. I’ve heard her talk about how she can work all day but still come home and work on her business because it’s her passion.

I resonate with that a lot. All Things PA-C was built working from my home office every night after my kids went to bed. Even though the work is hard, it energizes me. Not only do I love the actual work – researching and writing questions, providing resources and communicating with all of you – but like Andrea, I really enjoy the business aspect of it. It’s why on days like today, even after long hours with my “day job,” I can stay up finishing a blog post and writing a few practice questions.

I hope this was helpful to some of you thinking about starting your own side gig. Whether it’s making a physical product, digital product, or some other business endeavor, I want to be your cheerleader. It’s a lot of hard work, but PAs are some of the hardest workers and smartest people I know.

In part 2, I’ll share some practical tips and tricks as well as resources I used to get All Things PA-C off the ground and grow a large social media following. I hope you come back!

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