Career Transition Posse – Dr. Kay’s Nonclinical Exploration


Welcome back to another episode of the Career Transition Posse! Today I’m following up with Dr. Kay, our PM&R/Pain Management physician who’s kindly sharing her career transition as it unfolds in real-time. If you missed her initial interview, you can find it here

Read on to see how she’s trying different things out and as well as some words of advice she has for you if you’re on the journey.

Are you feeling any different about clinical practice than when we last checked in with you?

No.  I really don’t enjoy patient care anymore.  To echo the words of Dr. Rachel*, “people can really suck.”  I would add that living in the midst of a crisis like one we have never seen before does not always bring out the best in people—patients and colleagues alike, sadly.  

Several months after my initial request to do so, I have reduced my hours at work.  Less time at the office has not made me like it any better, unfortunately.

(*Rachel’s interview was brilliant. I cried when I read it. Dr. Kay)

Has COVID affected how you feel about your role as a physician in any way?

First of all, in these times, I feel as though I am supposed to be grateful to have a job and job security. Sometimes I am. 

There was a brief period of time, at the start of the outbreak, when I was worried that I might be asked to work in the ER or in the hospital to help out during the “surge.” I felt guilty about not wanting to help in this way. But, I would be useless, and terrified, working in an ER or inpatient setting because I am an outpatient physiatrist. 

I have also discovered that I do not like telemedicine at home any more than I like going to the office. It is hard to practice at home, maintain confidentiality, home-school, etc.  That said, my hospital’s administration is talking about sending us back into the office to do telemedicine.  All I can say about that is I really don’t want to go. I’ve looked at my schedule for the coming weeks and I am dreading seeing all of the new patients.  It’s visceral.  

I have been hoping to be furloughed or laid off and I am disappointed that it isn’t happening. I wonder if people with careers outside of medicine who don’t like their jobs feel this way. Basically, I do not miss being at the office and I think that is more proof that I need to stop doing this, right?

What have you been looking into career-wise since your initial post?

I’m on a few “panels” to do on-line chart review. I have been doing some peer review.  That was very busy at first, but it has slowed down significantly during the pandemic and decline in non-essential medical care and testing. I am also doing disability claims review on a monthly basis.  

I did have an actual job interview for the disability position and that was a really good thing to do. The last time I had an interview for a non-clinical job was a disaster.  It was really helpful to prepare using Heather’s interview checklist and some of the resources she referred me to, particularly the youtube videos.  I also had an interview for a full-time job.  I didn’t have as much time to prepare for that interview, and it was a phone conference with multiple people which was a stressful, strange, but worthwhile, experience.

I am also looking into becoming a physician Life Care Planner.

How do you like doing the chart review? 

I like doing the chart review.  I can do it during my free time for the most part. I’m using my brain to think more objectively without a patient sitting in front of me. However, I don’t like having to call other physicians to do “peer to peer” discussions.  Most doctors won’t call you back anyway, but it’s kind of a hassle. Plus, I know how it feels to be on the other end of the call.  The other drawback can be the reimbursement. You may only get paid for the “review” time, not the time you take to call the physician or the time it takes to complete the report. I’m doing this for the experience so I’m not as concerned about the money right now.  

How about the disability review work you’re doing?

I really enjoy this.  This particular work is very detailed. I am given massive amounts of records to review in some cases. Decisions are based in medical guidelines and facts. Part of this work involves meeting with a team of physicians from other specialties to discuss opinions and finalize a report. It has been a great way to work collaboratively with other doctors.  Also, I am using my brain and my expertise in an entirely different way than I do in the office. It’s objective. I’m learning a ton. Also, I really like that this very detailed process ensures that things are fair. As a physiatrist, and a sometimes advocate for my disabled patients, this is really important to me.

Can you tell us a bit about what a Life Care Plan is?

This is the official definition, which really sums it up:  “The life care plan is a dynamic document based upon published standards of practice, comprehensive assessment, data analysis, and research, which provides an organized, concise plan for current and future needs with associated costs for individuals who have experienced catastrophic injury or have chronic health care needs.” (International Conference on Life Care Planning and the International Academy of Life Care Planners. Adopted 1998, April.) It is a way to plan for the lifetime needs of an individual with a disability. The life care plan is typically used in litigation.

What interests you about doing Life Care Planning?

I became a physiatrist because I am interested in helping people have lives that are as independent and fulfilling as they can be.  When a person has been through a catastrophic injury, their ability to do this is altered greatly.  There are treatments, tools, and modifications to one’s environment that are essential in maximizing a person’s quality of life. A life care plan can be a means to making those things happen for a person.

What have you found out so far about Life Care Planning?

There is training and certification to become a Life Care Planner. I am planning to enroll in a course to do this. I am going to be speaking with some graduates of the course.  

How are you handling the uncertainty of your career direction?

I do feel like I am narrowing things down a bit.  

Previously you said that putting your family’s financial security at risk was your biggest fear in this change process. Has that changed?

It continues to be a big concern for me, particularly in light of what is happening in the world right now. That said, my husband and I had a chance to meet with our financial advisor late last year. He basically said that I should not continue on in a career that I don’t enjoy and that he would help us figure out how to make it work during the transition. My husband would occasionally tell me that I should “just quit” now. Perhaps I should have done that already. Now, we both agree, may not be the best time for me to do that. (But, as I said, being laid off or furloughed would not be the worst thing to happen.)

What are you learning in this process of career change?

I kind of thought that something may just fall out of the sky, into my lap, with a big bow tied around it. After a life of going to school, and through training, and being immediately employable, I had forgotten that all of that was really hard work. Changing the trajectory is hard work too.       

Is there any advice you’d like to give others about making a transition?

Be kind to yourself.  You have the right to feel the way you do about your career. Making a transition isn’t a vanity project or an escape from reality.  You want to make a change for good reasons. If you’re having a hard time with that, it may help to write those reasons down, talk them through with someone else who is not going to judge you for them, be clear with yourself.  

It’s hard to make this process of change the priority it needs to be if you are judging yourself and not honoring how you feel. There will always be other things like your job, family, kids, random pandemics, and who knows what else, that can take your attention away from what you want and need.

It definitely takes time, and nothing has happened overnight for me, but if you just make a commitment to something better for yourself and keep at it, the changes will come.

A heart-felt “Thank you!” to Dr. Kay for her in-depth interview. Please feel free to leave comments for her. Your support and encouragement make a huge difference for the Posse members.

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  1. Marina Claudio on May 14, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you for the update. I can easily relate to how you are feeling. I gave 6 months notice at my office in January, feeling confident that I would transition into a non-clinical position by June. I networked hard and was given an amazing opportunity. After 2 successful interviews (the prep for these was intense including 2 mock interviews with colleagues to rehearse the answers to common questions), the company couldn’t offer the position due to factors beyond my control. I had to scramble and meanwhile, my online applications for various positions were coming back as rejections. I had to stay far away from feeling inadequate. I could easily get a clinical job anywhere but that’s not what will make me happy. Lucky for me, my colleague is ok with me staying on beyond June until I find something. The pandemic is definitely NOT helping. Looking at certifications at this point. Still searching job boards. A small business idea is in development. I agree 100% that the transition phase is tough but we must carry on because our drive and determination will bring us opportunities…soon!

    • Heather Fork on May 14, 2020 at 7:12 pm

      Marina, I appreciate your reading Dr.Kay’s update and sharing your own experience. You are doing all the right things and I am confident you will find your way to the right job. Right now, so much is in upheaval and a lot of companies have put hiring on hold, but a new “normal” will get established. The prep that you have already done and experience with interviewing will pay off. Keep the faith and keep us posted! Thank you!

  2. Susan on May 14, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks for your honest and open interview, Dr Kay!

    • Heather Fork on May 14, 2020 at 6:59 pm

      Thank you Susan for reading and commenting! It makes a big difference. I am grateful to Dr. Kay too!

  3. Helen Rhodes on May 18, 2020 at 1:36 am

    Cheering you on Dr. Kay! Throw many lines in the water. Think outside the box. Network. Build relationships. And honor those feelings in your core that define who you are and what’s most important to you…


    • Heather on May 18, 2020 at 2:09 am

      Thank you Helen for cheering Dr. Kay on! Your words are most encouraging! We can do so much more when we are supported. Thank 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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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.

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“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.

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Orthopedic Surgeon
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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.  

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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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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. 

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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.

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Family Physician
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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."

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! 

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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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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!

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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

"There have been a handful of people who have come into my life and changed it, and Heather is one of those people."

From the very first interaction with Heather, it became abundantly clear that she possessed a systematic approach and a methodology firmly rooted in my focusing on my goals and aspirations. Heather's coaching sessions helped me dismantle limiting beliefs and unearth the capable woman, mother, and physician within me. Under Heather's guidance, I began to dream again. I rediscovered my passion for writing, found the courage to share my stories, and even launched my own coaching practice. Today, I specialize in helping others conquer imposter syndrome and overcome burnout, empowering them to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. Working with Heather fundamentally shifted my perspective and allowed me to show up authentically in every facet of my life, resulting in a profound sense of fulfillment.

I am deeply grateful that I can continue my work in the emergency department and serve my community as a physician as well as a coach. Working with Heather was a transformative gift that enabled me to rediscover my true self, find clarity in my life's purpose, and unlock my full potential. Through her guidance, I not only reignited the powerful, confident, and bold version of myself I had lost sight of but also realized the boundless possibilities that lay ahead.

- Maria Dominguez 

Emergency physician and coach