I just returned from skiing in Alaska at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge with Jimmy Chin, Travis Rice, Mark Healey and a bunch of other folks. You could say all of us are gig workers, but I was especially impressed with our guide, Wes Wylie, who’s designed an unconventional life for himself. The rest of us are dirt bags, in one form or another, who’ve somehow managed to carve out a scrappy professional path in-between picking lines to climb up, and lines to ski down. But Wylie, he’s a physician. A physician who gigs.
I’m not talking about “works sometimes as a heli-skiing guide.” I mean Wylie has figured out a way to gig in his role as a doctor. After all that education, he’s carved out a way to use his medical skills, but not feel locked in to a practice. He can travel. He can guide. He can be where he wants, when he wants. I thought he had a good story to tell, so I grabbed him during an afternoon of bad weather, and got the lowdown. Here’s how he’s made it work.
John Winsor: Tell me how you started to gig.
Wes Wylie: I was in private practice as a doctor for about 20 years. I’m 60 years old now. I had gone to medical school in Houston at the University of Texas and did my residency there. That took me away from the mountains, so once I finished my residency I was hired by a hospital in Utah and that’s where I started a private practice. Private practice was really rewarding and it was what I always thought my plan would be. The practice grew really fast and went from one doctor to about 18 doctors in a multi-specialty clinic.
But the complexity of running the business grew as did the difficulty of delivering medicine because of decreased reimbursements and rising overhead. I began to realize as I was getting older that my goal was to work less and enjoy skiing more. But it wasn’t happening. I was working more, spinning my wheels and making less.
And so at that
I was also looking for alternative ways to be a doctor. I wanted to free up my time but still stay in touch and practice yet still focus on ski guiding as my main passion. Now, I have a recruiter that finds hospitals that need physicians to fill spots. I’ll fly and travel to these hospitals and I’ll work shift work there.
Winsor: What does that look like, in terms of logistics?
Wylie: I’ll usually do seven days on with 12 hour shifts then I’m off for as long as I want. As an independent contractor I charge an hourly rate so I don’t have to deal with insurance companies or the time it takes to run a clinic. I negotiate the rate they pay me for travel, they pay my insurance and I have no overhead. I don’t have to keep an office and I can dictate how and when I work so that I can take two, three or as many months off as I want and do the things that I really have a passion for, like ski guiding.
One of the lines Wes Wylie guided us down in the Tordrillos.JOHN WINSOR
Winsor: How is this different than when you had your private practice?
Wylie: When I’m off I’m off. When I had my private practice it was more than full time. You’re always on. It’s like having two jobs. One is being a doctor and another is running a business. Running the business was an enormous thing to do. And there’s just a lot of moving parts that were very complicated. My feeling was that we as the physicians are the talent and without us there really is nothing there. Between paying malpractice insurance, hiring employees, and paying overhead benefits we had to really work hard to maintain a reasonable income while keeping everybody else paid. You had to feed the beast.
Now, the only person I’m feeding is myself because I don’t have any obligations or debts to pay. And, so I know exactly what I need. And I have no doubt at this point in my career.
Winsor: What’s work like now?
Wylie: I just work as much as I need to. I just kind of handle ancillary costs and travel and things. And it’s really taken the burden off my shoulders.
Winsor: Has there been a financial sacrifice to do this?
Wylie: The bottom line is that I can make more in a week doing what I’m doing now than I could in a month of taking care of patients 30-35 patients a day.
Winsor: Any downsides?
Wylie: The biggest drawback is the travel. It’s the time you’re away from home. You know you miss the people at home. If I do a seven-day shift there is a day of travel on either end. So I’m really gone nine days.
Like anything, it’s a balance.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Forbes.