Episode #13: A Surgeon Decides It’s Time to Leave Medicine


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There is no denying being a surgeon is stressful. Long days in the OR, operating in the middle of the night, complications, too much time doing administrative duties… It’s no wonder surgeons are looking for nonclinical options. Dr. Tracy Pitt, a bariatric surgeon, shares his story of leaving medicine for a job in drug safety with a Contract Research Organization. Find out how he did it and why he’s not looking back.

In this episode we’re talking about:

  • The stresses of being a surgeon
  • The steps Dr. Tracy Pitt took to change careers
  • His role as a drug safety medical director
  • What a CRO or contract research organization is
  • Compensation for physicians in pharma/CROs

Links for this episode:

www.doctorscrossing.com/pharma – Your Insider’s Guide to Pharma. Get an overview of the different areas for physicians in pharma as well as tips to start building your platform to make a transition.

The Carpe Diem Resume Kit – Everything you need to convert your CV to a resume, including templates and a bonus section on cover letters. Crafting a resume for a specific nonclinical job is key for increasing your chances of getting that coveted interview.

Thank you for listening!

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Heather Fork


  1. Andrea Eisenberg on January 21, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you for featuring someone in a surgical specialty. I completely understand that dread of being on call, dread of the pager going off any time day or night, the constant pressure of “being on.” As an ob/gyn, that is my life as well. I also appreciated the honesty about what he missed and didn’t miss about practicing medicine. I wondered if he missed patient interaction and colleague interaction.

    • Heather Fork on January 21, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      Good morning Andrea! Yes, you are so welcome. I wanted to feature the perspective of a surgeon as those pressures are significant and add a whole other layer to the stresses of being a physician. My appreciation and gratitude go out to Tracy for candidly sharing his experience. The telling of the truth helps to normalize what is true for many physicians/surgeons but isn’t often spoken about. A lot of the Ob/Gyns I speak with talk about the feelings you describe. I remember really enjoying my OB/Gyn rotation in medical school, it was very dynamic and exciting in different ways, but when I thought about actually being the one in charge and the responsibility of an attending, it seemed pretty scary to me! Thank you for your post!

    • Tracy Pitt on January 23, 2021 at 4:58 pm

      Hello Andrea, Thank you for your comments and question. I do miss interacting with patients, however as I increasingly became stressed and frustrated I was becoming disinterested in the physician-patient interaction. Regarding colleague interactions, I have a new set of colleagues who are wonderful, and I am building new relationships every day. Regarding my close personal surgical colleague relationships, they are very supportive. Lastly, if you’re considering a change, you’re looking at the right site. Best regards. Tracy

  2. Dr. Jerry Wehr on January 21, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    I have listened to all of your podcasts, Dr. Fork, and each one is relevant and pertinent to us physicians wanting to make a change to nonclinical medicine.
    Thanks Dr. Pitt for your candid story of courage to make a change. Indeed, happiness is certainly priceless. Thanks again both of you for your wisdom.

    • Heather Fork on January 22, 2021 at 1:03 am

      Why thank you, Dr. Jerry Wehr! I have read and appreciate all of your wonderful comments here! You are true blue! I try to bring content on the podcasts that will be pertinent to my beloved listeners and feel very blessed to have such wonderful clients and guests bringing you their experience and wisdom. When the time is right Jerry, we will have you on! Please let me know of future episodes you’d like to hear!

    • Tracy Pitt on January 23, 2021 at 5:01 pm

      Hello Jerry,

      Your comments are appreciated, Hope my story can help you. Best Regards, Tracy.

  3. Jennifer Goss on January 21, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    I listened to Tracy speak about the 6 pm surgical emergency heading to the ER and felt that familiar dread; so glad you’ve found happiness and satisfaction outside of clinical practice! It makes you think that happiness actually does have a price — a little less money and a jump in happiness from a two to a seven. Tracy, thank you so much for sharing, and Heather, thank you so much for being our fearless leader!

    • Heather Fork on January 22, 2021 at 12:53 am

      Thank you, Jennifer, I like how you highlight this important point – happiness – or the lack thereof, does have a high cost. I’ve from others of you off-line as well who are in or have been in, surgical specialties and that dread about what’s coming in the door is very common. Emergencies may look like enticing drama on Grey’s Anatomy or ER, am some physicians may thrive off of them, but after a while the stress can take its toll in a very human way. Thank you for your most supportive comments, I’m happy to help and grateful for having Tracy as my fearless guest.

    • Tracy Pitt on January 23, 2021 at 5:09 pm

      Hello Jennifer, I appreciate your response. Overall happiness is valuable and worthwhile to obtain. Best Regards, Tracy

  4. Suchada Chaiwechakarn on January 23, 2021 at 8:25 am

    I am an ObGyn but I don’t have research experience whatsoever. Breaking into pharma seems impossible. What are your suggestions?

    • Heather Fork on January 23, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      Drug safety is an area I have seen a number of physicians break into without prior pharma experience. Some of the things you can consider doing are: take a few online pharma courses, see if there is a clinical trial in your area you could potentially help out with, offer to refer appropriate patients, write several articles on pharma related topics and post them on your LinkedIn profile to show your interest, connect with Medical Science Liaisons in your specialty area, if you are not already on a committee or doing some teaching and presenting, even informally, this looks good on your resume and is valuable experience. Start networking with other physicians who are in pharma, as well as pharma recruiters to develop connections and gather advice. It is possible! There are other roles like the Medical Science Liaison (MSL), medical affairs, and medical communications that physicians transition into w/o significant experience, it all depends on your natural skills, background, connections, right place, right time, etc. Good luck!

    • Tracy Pitt on January 23, 2021 at 5:21 pm

      Hello Suchada, thank you for the question. Heather’s response is excellent, and I would defer to her for personal assistance. But to add support, it’s NOT impossible (maybe challenging, but wasn’t med school and residency challenging?). As I alluded to in the podcast, inexperience may be somewhat beneficial at times; the company is able to train you without preconceived bias. You have nothing to lose if you send a resume for an opportunity. Best regards, Tracy

  5. Anne Dall on January 23, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    I enjoyed listening to another transition story. It is especially to hear again that even though positions often state that experience is required, that is not written in stone. As Dr. Pitt stated, everyone has to start somewhere. The idea of embarking on a new path with a learning curve sounds exciting. We in medicine are good at learning. That I think can be a big positive to balance the uncertainty of leaving clinical medicine behind.

    • Heather Fork on January 23, 2021 at 3:35 pm

      You make a great point Dr. Anne Dall, about how important it is for physicians to be able to keep learning and growing. Mental stagnation and the feeling that you’re not feeding your mind with new things can be a common experience after being in practice for a number of years. Those exponential learning years of training are over and it’s easy to miss the mental stimulation and growth. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

    • Tracy Pitt on January 23, 2021 at 5:38 pm

      Hello Anne, Thank you for your response, and I agree completely. Although challenging at times, I have been excited about learning new topics (i.e. gene therapy). During my career, I did not feel like I was growing academically, just the same day to day routine. Now I am learning about topics that are interesting, but outside the norm for a surgeon. Best regards, Tracy.

  6. Modupe Oladeinde on January 25, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    Another great and very relevant podcast, thanks Heather!
    Thank you Dr Pitt for sharing your journey into Pharma. Although I transitioned to UM from Family Medicine, I could absolutely identify with you when you spoke about moving on before you “snap”!
    Enjoy your new career and freedom, wishing you even more success in the future.
    God bless!

    • Heather Fork on January 25, 2021 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you Dr. Mo for your very kind and supportive comments for Dr. Pitt! I think there are many of us who’ve had those moments where we felt we were going to snap. We develop high thresholds for dealing with difficult situations and that threshold can get dangerously high before it registers with us what is actually happening. I’m glad you have found a new happy career “home” yourself!

  7. Rebecca I. Carey on May 8, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks…It is great blog post. I am Always read your blog. Helpful and Informative blog. It’s a great thing that this article suggested the importance of A Surgeon Decides It’s Time to Leave Medicine. Thanks for sharing these information with us.

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"Heather’s approach was great! She would listen to me and helped me appreciate who I am."

I remember when she said ‘do your resume before our next meeting’, I was about to push back but she gently nudged me along and I’m glad I did exactly what she wanted me to do. We also did interview prep via Zoom and I was offered a great job in UM. She has continued to follow up even after I was offered this job, helping me with pointers about negotiating. I will totally recommend the Doctors Crossing and Heather to anyone feeling stuck like me and looking for a great coach! Thank you Heather!

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You helped me find the courage to seek out leadership positions and become a medical director as well as a physician advisor. I am grateful we crossed paths and am a different person because of it. You have inspired me to "believe" in spite of my inner skeptic. I consider you one of my most important mentors and am proud to also call you a friend. This says a lot given the apprehension I felt when I took a chance with our first coaching session. Even though I have already made a successful transition, I still value your ongoing mentorship and can enthusiastically attest that the value of your services is tremendous!

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“I was at a crossroads in my medical career. I asked myself, "Do I stay or do I go?" 

I met Heather at the SEAK conference. She and I revisited this question.  Did I want to quit being medicine completely? She helped me to identify my needs, wants, and my vision for my FUTURE, not just in medicine, but in life!!!

She was able to listen to my "ramblings" about becoming a stand-up comic, lounge singer and voice-over actor and translate them into action steps.  I chose to become a composite of all of these. Now I am a more confident, healthier, happier person. I credit this in its entirety to the tutelage I have received and continue to receive from Heather.  She cares. She listens. She was there for ME.  She will be there for YOU!

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Heather helped me understand that I am more than just a doctor and that my experiences in clinical medicine are valuable in so many arenas.  As a result I realized that there are other ways to use my background, still be able to help people and continue to challenge myself and grow.  To that end I discovered coaching - specifically health coaching.  I am on my journey becoming a health coach and truly loving it!

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OB/Gyn physician

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What started out as an initial thirty-minute consultation call turned into an amazing four-year journey that transformed my life, personally, spiritually and professionally. 

Heather helped me to discover my passions...by doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth...

Today...my wife and I are opening our first concierge medicine clinic in a community we love. I’m actually excited to have the opportunity to practice medicine the way I believe it’s meant to be, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship and an emphasis on faith. I know if I had not reached out to Dr. Fork, my life would not be where it is at today.

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She is incredibly knowledgeable about the range of careers available to physicians and provided me with advice and connections which I would not have found on my own.  From the start she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try different things.  I was laid off unexpectedly in early 2017, and Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart and making decisions based on trust, not fear.  Now I am enjoying working part-time in a clinical setting in addition to teaching and writing.

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After months of struggling to find a non-clinical career that matched my values and passion, I stumbled upon Heather's website which truly changed my life."

Heather's insightful and personalized approach to career coaching made me think outside the box since she took the time to evaluate my personality, values, interests, and preferred lifestyle.

Through her encouragement, practical advice, and professional connections, I was able to find a non-clinical position at a state Medicaid agency that aligned with my passion for population health and serving low-income communities. In addition to her coaching sessions, Heather has built a community of like-minded physicians through her blog, and I feel honored to recommend her to friends and colleagues who seek to make positive changes in their professional and personal lives.

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Working with Heather ultimately helped me leave my job in corporate healthcare and find a path that was much more fulfilling."

My career was going reasonably well but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling I could do better; or at least find a better long-term career fit.  

I was able to find a surgery job that better aligned with my goals and professional interests.  Additionally, Heather helped me start a consulting business which has allowed me to pursue a true passion: helping medical students, residents, and attendings surgeons navigate the challenges of high-stakes standardized exams.    

If you are reading this as a “Type A” surgeon who doesn’t think coaching is for you, I would encourage you to give Heather a shot.  I’m very glad I did!

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When I first started working with Heather, I was downtrodden...I’d been practicing medicine for 20+ years and yet had never quite found my place.  During the first year I worked with Heather, I left the practice I’d been working at, and recreated an entirely new professional purpose.

I’m now an executive and leadership coach, a university professor, and a Brené Brown Daring Way facilitator, and I have never looked back.  I love what I am doing more than at any other time in my professional life and I credit Heather with seeing in me what I was never able to see in myself, until now.

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"After 30 years in academic medicine, I wanted a career change but had no idea where to start. Medicine was all I knew."

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"Heather was my source of hope during a time when I felt stuck and confused. She gave me the permission and confidence to reach higher than I believed I could."

After graduating from residency and starting a family, I lost sight of why I became a physician. I struggled to convince myself to stay in a career that was clearly the wrong fit for me and my family. My anxiety about work was at an all-time high when I reached out to Heather. She provided something that my mentors, friends, and family could not – rather than just offering career advice, she changed the way I think about my life so that I could understand how my career would fit into it. I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on medicine and eventually found a job in academic medicine. I finally feel that excitement for medicine that I used to feel when I was in training. More importantly, I feel like I can be the role model to my young daughter who may one day also face similar challenges between career and family. Thank you, Heather, for all your kindness, support, and skillful coaching! The experience was life-changing!

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"As a Physician, your personal and even professional needs are often overlooked. I learned how to prioritize my career goals by working with Dr. Heather Fork."

She taught me how to put into practice what I knew in theory, that taking care of myself was a priority. I learned to give myself permission to make the career choices that would give me the work-life balance I desperately craved and needed. The process of confronting fears and insecurities was a bit scary, but well worth it in the end. I am now a happier version of myself with a non-clinical job that I truly enjoy!

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"After 10 years in outpatient family medicine I felt stuck and knew I needed a change but I didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully I found Heather and she guided me every step of the way."

She helped me carefully assess my interests, strengths and passions while also providing me with constructive changes to implement in my job search and resume. With Heather’s help, I just landed a fully remote UM position and I am also exploring coaching as well. Now I feel like the possibilities are endless and I’m excited for this next chapter in the nonclinical world! Thank you Heather for changing my life for the better.

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"I'm truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be coached by Heather, she is not only a resourceful mentor but a wise and supportive friend. I'm honored to recommend Heather to all my friends and colleagues."

I had been a practicing Internist for 20 years when I reached a point when I needed to make a serious change in my career path. While I enjoyed seeing patients, I was not satisfied with my life-work balance. My job was taking me away from my family and left me little time and energy to do other things that are important and meaningful to me. I came across Dr. Fork's podcast; The Doctor's Crossing Carpe Diem Podcast, it is such an informative and enjoyable podcast for any physician who wants to do more with their career and life in general. Then I had the pleasure to get career coaching from Heather, it was truly an amazing experience. Heather has broad knowledge of all the different career paths that are available for physicians, she is so insightful and very easy to talk to. She helped me clarify my goals, examine my own mindset and definition of success. Together we developed a clear plan and actionable steps to reach these goals. I eventually made a career transition to a remote non-clinical position that allows me to do meaningful work which aligns with my personal and professional goals and priorities.

- Abbey Awad, MD

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