Melissa Fraher, a pediatric nurse practitioner, works full time at a private clinic in Norwalk, Conn. But last week, she spent an afternoon crisscrossing Manhattan working her side hustle: piercing ears in clients’ homes.
Arriving at a loft apartment in Chelsea, she met 8-year-old Sloan Vella and her mother, Anna Vella. Sloan, about to get her first piercing, was fiddling nervously with a snake finger puppet.
“Why are you scared?” asked Ms. Fraher, donning hot pink latex gloves. “It’s not going to hurt.”
Sloan selected a pair of star-shaped stud earrings from the display Ms. Fraher pulled from her zipper case, but she didn’t look any happier.
“I don’t think you’re going to cry,” Ms. Fraher soothed. “You seem like a pretty tough cookie.”
Sloan promptly started to cry.
Ms. Fraher, 29 years old, has seen this before, and knew how to handle the situation. Since signing on with Rowan Inc., a Manhattan-based startup launched this past summer that sends nurses around town to puncture earlobes, she’s performed hundreds of piercings on infants, children, teens and adults, typically earning $85 a visit. She enjoys the flexibility: “You can work as little or as much as you want to.”
Across the city, health-care workers are leveraging their expertise to snag extra cash, often earning more per hour than they could with more common side gigs like delivering packages.
Nurses working as independent contractors for Manhattan-based I.V. Doc visit homes and offices to administer drips addressing maladies ranging from hangovers to food poisoning, for example.
Another firm, Swift Shift, uses algorithms to connect nurses and caregivers to home-care opportunities, matching them by preference including patient location, condition, gender and age.
The area’s insatiable demand for health and wellness services makes New York ideal for launching businesses that rethink health-care delivery, entrepreneurs say.
Then there is the vast labor pool—there are nearly half a million health-care workers in the metro area, including roughly 92,000 nurses.
Queens EMT Bryan Llorente has a full-time job providing nonemergency transport with an ambulance company. To spark things up, he takes gigs with ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., a Brooklyn-based outfit that staffs events ranging from office parties and fashion shows to music festivals.
Mr. Llorente has seen some of his favorite performers for free while treating maladies ranging from paper cuts to a broken ankle. “The pay is OK, but what makes it great is enjoying the events,” he says.
ParaDocs Chief Executive Officer Alex Pollak says that at a big summer festival, he will have as many as 200 workers staffing a full-blown temporary emergency room, treating more than 700 patients a day.
Hourly pay ranges from $17 for an EMT to more than $200 for a doctor—on par with industry averages. Mr. Pollak says he seldom has trouble filling slots. He recently had a doctor take a shift as an EMT for the opportunity to attend an event at BAM starring Jimmy Kimmel.
There are thorny regulatory and insurance issues challenging any business delivering health care using independent contractors, says Charlie Paterson, a health-care data expert with PA Consulting. But the growing field has garnered serious funding from investors who believe consumers are more comfortable summoning health care via apps.
Some local startups have taken the virtual approach. Talkspace, perhaps the most high-profile example, has thousands of licensed therapists, including several hundred in the New York City area, providing video and text-based counseling and therapy.
Paloma Health, which launched last year, connects thyroid doctors with hypothyroid patients, charging $99 for at-home testing kits and $99 for video consultations. Endocrinologists working as independent contractors earn $150 to $200 an hour, says co-founder and chief operations officer Marina Tarasova.
There is undoubtedly something lost when patient care goes virtual. But the delivery system has advantages, says Syed Mohammed, founder and CEO of Manhattan-based Enable My Child, which provides video-based speech, occupational and mental therapy to children using independent contractors.
His platform automates time-consuming tasks such as recording case notes, allowing the company to offer rates maxing out at $79 an hour.
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The therapist takes 75% to 80% of the cut. It isn’t fabulous pay, but independent contractors like the flexibility of conducting a session from home on, say, a Saturday morning, Mr. Mohammed says.
Back at the Vella household, the weepy Sloan couldn’t be consoled with offers of treats, games or a call with grandma.
“You still want to do it, right?” asked her mother.
Sloan nodded and Ms. Fraher moved in. Pop! Pop! The piercing was over in seconds.
“You look so good!” said Sloan’s mother. “What happened to my baby? I’m tearing up.”
She FaceTimed her husband, Dr. Adam Vella, so he could admire his daughter’s new look. “Baby Sloan is gone!” Dr. Vella exclaimed. “Now I’m going to cry!”
But Sloan was all smiles, stars sparkling in her ears. Ms. Fraher gave her a certificate of bravery and headed off to the next appointment.
Nurses can find plenty of gigs addressing grim situations, Ms. Fraher says. “But this is fun. You don’t find that opportunity that often.”
Write to Anne Kadet at Anne.Kadet@wsj.com
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