Are you being selfish or "self-full?"


The other day one of my clients who’s an OB/Gyn physician opened our coaching call with a statement that made my jaw drop. She said,

“I’m focusing on being more selfish in all areas of my life. I have this fire in me. This is my time.”

I wanted to jump for joy.

I almost shouted “Hallelujah!”

Having given up so much of herself for her demanding career, as well as for her family, she was so far to the left of selfish, that this proclamation was a much-needed course correction.

I know this will be a game-changer for her and help her avoid physician burnout.

Even if she goes overboard with focusing on herself, she will never be a selfish person. She will be a healthier, happier, and more empowered version of herself.

This isn’t just true for her.

I believe this is true for many of you.

If you’re like so many physicians, you’ve likely given up a lot of yourself to be doctor, to provide for your family, and to fulfill society’s expectations.

And if you’re like a lot of physicians, when you start thinking about doing more for yourself, you begin to feel selfish. Guilty even.

We’re told not to be selfish. Patients come first. Check your needs at the door. Their health is more important than yours. Their satisfaction is worth measuring, not yours.

So you put your head down and keep toiling way.

At least no one can fault you for being selfless.

No one says, “Oh you terrible, awful person, you do so much for others and never think of yourself. Why you’re even worse than Mother Teresa. Shame on you!”

No, that doesn’t happen.

We need something to describe the healthy balance between the polarity of selfishness and selflessness.

We need a word (for starters).

How about SELF-FULL?

I can’t remember where I first heard this word “self-full” but for me it conjures the image of someone who’s not depleted (tank is at least half-full) and who has a healthy, balanced relationship to self and others.

In contrast, when someone is selfish, there’s a lack of connection to the needs of others and an overindulgence in self.

When someone is selfless, there’s a lack of connection to self which leads to the denial of one’s own needs and wants, in service of giving all to others.

When you’re self-full, you’re able to honor and respect your own needs and wants AND also be in service to others.  

Sure.. that sounds great, you say.

But how’s that possible if you’re a physician working in this system that often doesn’t even pay lip service to your needs?

When was last time your employer surveyed your satisfaction levels?

Waiting for the system to be more attuned to your well-being could mean certain burnout or a desperate leap out of medicine.

So how do you take care of your own needs and desires in a system that wants you to provide healthcare but turns a blind eye to your own health and well-being?

The first step is to let go of any guilt associated with making your own needs and wants a priority. We all need adequate sleep, exercise, healthy food, connection, and meaning in our lives.

But with the kind of demanding lifestyle we’re used to from training, it’s often hard for us to prioritize our needs without feeling guilty. We may have to think of how we would treat a friend or family member, instead of ourselves.

Many of you work long hours and make sure your kids have activities to go to and sports to play, but you don’t have very much personal time. You also may be reluctant to decrease your work hours least there be any less money for the family.

The things that you are working hard for to give your family are often at arm’s length for you.

Below are some of the things that can be hard to do if you’re not used to making yourself more of a priority:

  • Taking time to exercise
  • Scheduling a regular date night
  • Hardwiring time in your calendar just for you
  • Allowing yourself time for hobbies and friends
  • Going on a retreat/get-a-way
  • Cutting back your hours at work
  • Saying no to things when you may disappoint people
  • Asking others for help and to do more

When you start making yourself and your own needs more of a priority, be careful not to compare yourself with others.

Some people need a lot of downtime. Others like to be working or occupied.
One person may get enough exercise from yoga. Someone else may need to run 10 miles.
One physician may be quite happy seeing patients while their friend from residency is enjoying working for the FDA.

If feelings of guilt start to creep in when you think about what you want, do a means test and try to pinpoint what specifically you would be guilty of for wanting x, y, or z.

To be guilty is to have done something wrong. You are innocent until proven guilty.

And if the verdict is guilty, ask to see the judge’s credentials.

Remember, this is your time too. Find that fire within you to make yourself and your life a priority.

And if you already have, I’d love to hear how this mindset is changing your life.

Be back soon!

My client mentioned above gave me permission to share her quote with you. 

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  1. Jessica G on September 19, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Heather,

    I came across this blog and was curious if you had any clients who made the decision to quit medicine in the early years of residency, i.e intern year?

    I am currently making the decision to put myself first. I have experienced burnout, developed an autoimmune disease and dealt with the hospital closure of my residency program, all in one year.

    I feel like I’m on my own making this decision. No one can understand why all those years and loans from medical school that I would make such a decision to transition. And in their minds, it is such a prestigious field, etc etc. I feel like a disappointment.

    If you do have residents who quit medicine, how did their journey turnout? I know it’s not an easy decision

    • Heather Fork on September 19, 2019 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Jessica, thanks so much for reaching out. I’m so sorry to hear about how rough your internship has been and that your health has been affected and the residency program has closed. This sounds really tough. You are making a very important decision and it is key to be able to hear your own voice and take your time. Some of my clients have been residents deciding whether or not to continue. I have seen both paths work out. From what I have seen, it is not easy to forge a new direction after leaving residency. It takes a lot of soul-searching, networking and hard work. But there is also the opportunity cost of continuing residency to consider, especially if it is adversely affecting your health. I recently worked with a resident who had to leave for several years due to health reasons but she was able to go back. And yes, I do know of a number of residents who left and are doing very well and are happy with their choice. This also includes medical school graduates.

      It’s good to remember too that most people never go to medical school and they have very happy and productive lives and careers. There are many options. What you do if you decide not to continue residency will be informed by your interests, talents, personality, and skill set. I have seen some residents who are trying to make this decision reach out on the Physician Nonclinical Career Hunter’s Facebook group. You can ask to speak with those who have been in a similar situation and decided to stay and those who decided to leave. One resident I know did this and he had a lot of people willing to speak with him. There are going to be people who will plain out tell you to stay. And others who will tell you what they think you should do. But focus more on those who share their own journey as a way to gather information and know that you will the decision that is right for you.

      Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going for you. You will be able to figure this out. All my best, Heather

    • Trusandra Taylor on October 4, 2019 at 2:34 pm


      Hats off to you for “putting yourself first” and addressing your burnout. Don’t be discouraged because of your previous experience and continue to focus upon your health and well-being. Despite your challenges, there are many resources for your support to help and guide you through this process. You have not failed and don’t feel disappointed. You have taken the first step by reaching out. Stay in touch with Heather and Doctors Crossing.


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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!

- Modupe Oladeinde, MD

Family Medicine
Tim O

The coaching I have had with you has been life changing."

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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Family Medicine
Lynette Charity

“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!

- Lynette Charity, MD

Gail Miller

“I am forever grateful to Heather for helping me to recognize, I am more than just my M.D." 

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!

- Gail Miller, MD

OB/Gyn physician

“Thank you, Heather, for helping me transform my career, my faith and my life."

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 doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth... 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.

- Steve Lapke, MD

Papillion, NE
Sue Zimmermann

“Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart."

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.

- Sue Zimmermann, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon
Devki Patel

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.

- Devki Patel, MD

Jay Macregor

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!

- Jay MacGregor, MD

Colorectal Surgeon

“I gained the confidence in myself to develop an action plan that blended the best parts of my experiences and interests into a cohesive career." 

Through our work, I learned to trust myself to make good decisions for my own future – something I hadn’t realized I was struggling with because as an emergency physician, I make life-changing decisions with patients every day. 

By feeding my creativity and interests in other realms of my professional life, I’ve found renewed compassion for my patients and myself, making every shift an opportunity to actually care for people. Thank you Heather. I really couldn’t have made these changes without your help!

- Liz McMurtry, DO

Emergency Medicine Physician

The simple truth is - Heather Fork totally helped me change my life."

I never would have had the courage to make the changes I’ve made without her unwavering support, wealth of knowledge and commitment. 

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.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt yourself, schedule your time with Heather as soon as possible- she can help you reconnect to your purpose and reinvent your life.

- Amie Langbein, DO

Family Physician
KB Karen Barnard Photo

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

I signed up for coaching with Heather and it transformed my life. She helped me get clear on what I wanted my life to look like. We reviewed my skills, values, and strengths. She instilled hope in me that change IS possible after 50 years! 

The outcome is that I have created a life I love! I practice endocrinology part-time and own a life coaching business! Coaching with Heather is one of the best investments I have made in my life. 

- Karen Barnard, MBBCh, MPH

Endocrinologist and Life Coach

"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!

- Yuri Shindo, MD

Internal Medicine Physician
Camille Gardner-Beasley

"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!

- Camille Gardner-Beasley, MD

Family Medicine
Anna testimonial

"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.

- Ana Jacobellis, DO


"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

Internal Medicine