Create Your Own "Personal Pan Retreat!"


I’m calling it your “Personal Pan Retreat” in homage to those tasty little pizzas you get to design with your very own choice of toppings. Want extra cheese? You got it. Hold the anchovies? No problem. Extra sauce? Check!

Why a retreat?

Life on the proverbial hamster wheel has such momentum that it’s difficult to slow down and find the time to reconnect with our deeper self. When we do get a break, we may be on a whirlwind family vacation, fixing up the house, hosting company – or all of the above. A retreat can certainly be a vacation, but it has a specific focus.

I’m planning a one-day Personal Pan Retreat at the end of the month to do some visioning for my next 5 years. I’ve been wanting to make some changes for a while now, but gosh darn it, in order to figure out exactly what kind of changes, I need some devoted time and space. And I get nowhere thinking about it while carrying on with my day-to-day life. Can you relate?

Using a retreat to create a vision for your future is only one possible focus, below are some other options that exist:

Meditation and Mindfulness
Healing and Renewal
And yes, even Physician Burnout retreats!

You can find a retreat to join. However, you can also create your own retreat for free, right in your own home.

How to plan your Personal Pan Retreat

First, decide on the focus of your retreat. It could be like mine, for visioning and goal setting, but it could also be for reconnecting with yourself by doing art, yoga, writing, woodworking, meditation, prayer, gardening, singing, etc. It’s not so much about the “what” you are doing, but “how” you are doing it. Many retreats are done in silence, or partial silence, in order to create a space for being fully present and focusing on each moment, rather than being lost in thought or activity. From this space, ideas and inspiration may flow.

Second, figure out the length and location. You can plan your retreat for ½ a day, a full day, overnight, or longer. You will want to have undisturbed time, so whether this means clearing the decks at your own home, going to a cabin, a seaside hotel, or a local bed and breakfast, the choice is yours. Some retreat centers offer their facilities for individuals to come and do their own retreats on the premises. You may join in on a formal treat if you prefer, or plan a retreat with friends or family.

Just for fun, here are some tongue-in-cheek themes for Personal Pan Retreats!

#1 Burnt to A Crisp No More! – Are you burned out from practice? Take your white coat off for a day or two and create a recipe to end the burnout.

#2 Who Stole My Cheese? – Feel like something’s missing in your life? Get that cheese back and then some by channeling Sherlock and tracking down the likely suspects.

#3 The Picassoroni – Bring out your inner artist and creative spirit through painting, drawing, woodworking, or whatever medium beckons.

#4 The Greek Goddess – Ladies – leave work, the laundry, the cooking and kids for a spell and rediscover your identity apart from any role. Keep your location a secret.

#5 The Whopper – Want to have it all? Take the time to set some juicy goals for the next 5 -10 years and make a plan to make it happen.

#6 Olives N’ OM’s – Simple, yet not easy. All that is required is to breathe, meditate and be present.

#7 The Man Cave – The Man’s Man retreat. He-man stuff, you know. Not sure on the details here. Ask a man.

Once you have your theme and location, then you can make a schedule. Below is one example where I use the theme of Creativity. What your day looks like is of course entirely up to you!

7:00 AM Wake up
7:15 AM Exercise
8:00 AM Breakfast
8:30 AM Guided Meditation (can use an app*)
9:00 AM Creative Activity – Draw, paint, write, play music, do wood working, pottery, gardening, cooking, crafting, photography, etc.
10:30 AM Reading: preselected reading related to your creative activity or creativity in general
11:00 AM Creative Activity
12:30 PM Lunch
1:00 PM Walking Meditation or Mindfulness Exercise
1:30 PM Journaling: jot down some notes on your experience thus far
2:00 PM Creative Activity
4:00 PM Refreshment/Tea Break
4:30 PM Meditation or Mindfulness Exercise
5:00 PM Wrap up: how you would like to bring more creativity into your day-to-day life?

You don’t need to have your time this structured, but I would at least have a rough schedule and gather the supplies you want to have and plan your meals. Allow some time for a little journaling and self-reflection.

If you like the idea of a retreat yet would rather not have to create your own, click here for some options.

* A Meditation App is an optional resource for your retreat. I personally love Headspace but here are a number to choose from. Even if you are not doing a meditation-themed retreat, you can use the app for 10-minute meditations throughout the day to help stay focused and grounded.

If you decide to do a retreat – homemade, frozen, or at a retreateria, I would love to hear about it!

Til next time,

Buon Appetito!

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  1. Sue Zimmermann on June 20, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Great post, Heather! I really liked the step-by-step instructions – very helpful to visualize how one can start tapping into the creative process. But reading it made me hungry – I’m going to get a snack now…..


  2. Heather Fork on June 21, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Thanks so much Sue! You are most welcome. I had fun writing the blog and it made me hungry too! Let me know if you end up doing your own re-treat. Happy snacking.

  3. Erin Silvertooth, MD on June 23, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Very nice, Heather! I love it.

    • Heather Fork on June 23, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks so much Erin! I appreciate your reading and commenting.

  4. Lynette D. Charity MD on July 2, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    So this is how I spent my Personal Pan Retreat yesterday. I was awakened at 0700 by my Sleep Analysis App which with a gently ping informed me that I had slept for 8 hours. Nice. I got out of bed, did my Yoga stretches to “un-stiffen” me and went to my comfy chair where I began my 10-min Headspace meditation. I’m in the middle of a 30-day pack and yesterday was Day 9 of FOCUS. Thanks to Dr. Heather for turning me on to Headspace which I have now been using for the past 3 months! I use the single guided meditation on sleep whenever my mind gets too busy at the time I want to go to bed to get my 8 hours, lol! Let me tell you, counting back from 1000 works! I think my brain just gets tired of thinking about the next number by the time I reach about 986. Okay, I digress. So after my FOCUS meditation, I dressed and went for a walk along the Columbia River near my home in Richland, WA. Oh, I did have a bran muffin and coffee before I left. As I walked the path I marveled at sights that I never noticed before. The sound of the river lapping against the shoreline, the geese and goslings diving for eats in the river, the amount of tumbleweeds that clogged the inlet where the yacht club is located. I smiled and said “Hi” to everyone along the way. I walked for 3.38 miles according to my Fitbit and then I turned around and came home. And there were NEW sights to behold! A crop-dusting plane which I don’t think I’d ever seen before. He swooped down and twisted and then soared up into the air. I marveled at the pilot’s ability. When I returned home, I had a snack and sat down to write. Ideas flowed effortlessly. I did this for about an hour and then spent several hours packing for my relocation from WA state to AZ. I was impressed with my ability to pack my boxes as if I were playing a game of Tetris! Everything fit snugly and I labeled each one using funny terminology such as “Doggie and Treats”. My porcelain dog was paired with a Costco box of mixed nuts and other items. Earlier in the week, I had taken 100 pounds of documents, mostly patient medical records from as far back as 2001, to a professional shredding company. I was now wishing that I had some of the “shred” to use to fill my boxes. But instead I canvassed my neighbors for old newspapers. All during my day I stopped many times to have a “mindful moment”, to be in the present and when I began to drift, I easily picked up on it and got myself back into the moment. I took a shorter walk to a friend’s condo and back and resume packing. I had a 70’s disco station playing on Pandora and decided that I had to dance to Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, along with Earth Wind and Fire and Sister Sledge. It felt good to dance with reckless abandonment. At around 5pm, I received a call from some friends who invited me out for Happy Hour drinks. I walked to and from the venue and toasted to good friends, good food and to living life to the fullest. Such a fun day! I slept well that night. No need for Headspace on sleep, although I love Andy’s voice! Rather a long post, but fun writing it.

    • Heather Fork on July 3, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      Lynette!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your lovely personal pan retreat. I thoroughly enjoyed reading how you spent your day and how on your walk (you went far!) you saw new sights and took what was happening around you. With your packing, you also show that a retest can include any activity you want- the point is to bring mindfulness and presence to the proces. I’m ready glad you like Headspace and Andy Puddicombe. I have to credit a client of mine for inspiring me to try Headspace. He does a meditation every morning before his run.

      You sound happy with your day and I am most grateful that you picked up in the idea of a custom-designed retreat and gave us these delightful details. My 81 years young mother wants to do one to set some new goals for herself and discover her purpose at this stage of her life. I’m going to share your retreat with her. Thanks again for your positive energy and involvement.

  5. Lynette D. Charity MD on July 3, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Heather, you are most welcomed! It is always a pleasure to read your blogs and to be coached by you. You are so insightful and have helped me transition almost seamlessly into my new life which continues to support my medical career while allowing me to “experiment” with other passions. Once I opened my MIND to meditation and mindfulness, I felt a calm come over me. I spend several “chunks” of meditation time each day to get in tune with myself. I don’t get stressed about the small things like packing away the remote to my DVD and being unable to watch a movie someone had given me. I just put it into my computer DVD player and enjoyed it without much fuss or muss. I’ve come to realize that mindfulness is motivating. It frees you to go after what matters in life and not dwell on the insignificant. It keeps you in the here and now. That’s why it’s called “the Present”. It’s a gift.

  6. Heather Fork on July 3, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Ha! You are so right Lynette. What a wonderful way to describe presence, as a gift. You are so right. And how great that you have found a new direction of speaking to others and sharing your story with inspiring messages – such as not letting others smash your dreams. Carry on and shout your message from the mountain tops!

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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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“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!

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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.

- Sue Zimmermann, MD

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.

- Devki Patel, MD

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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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Colorectal Surgeon

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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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- 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.

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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."

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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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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!

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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

"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