Guest Blog: Career Transition Stage 1 – Telling Mom


your mother is wathching you pixabay

A great client of mine agreed to share this piece he wrote on his career transition.  He is an ER physician who is currently pursuing other options.  Comments are welcome.

So, I want to change careers. More specifically, I would like to change my career from that of a clinical, emergency department physician to that of… well, something non-clinical. I suppose the exact “what” has yet to be determined. I must say, the process is a daunting one, fraught with worries about what it is that I wish to do, what it is that I am qualified to do, how I can afford to leave clinical medicine, how to break into a new field, and many, many others. Nevertheless, a conversation with my mother the other day added yet one more concern, one more stressor to the list.

Now, as many of you who have or have had mothers in the past know, there is almost nothing in this universe that cannot be made more stressful by a conversation with her. There is something inherently anxiety-producing in getting helpful advice from the woman who bore and raised you. In this case, we were talking quite nicely about day-to-day things when I casually mentioned that I was speaking later that afternoon to my career counselor. There was a pause, and she asked, “Why, honey, are you speaking to a career counselor?”

I sighed, as we had discussed my desire to leave clinical medicine several times in the past.

“She is helping me figure out how to leave the ER, Mom. You know I’ve been wanting to get out of the ER for a while now.”

“Oh, sweetheart. You know you love the ER. You’re just confused right now. Give it time, and you will realize you want to stay there after all.

And then she let drop the phrase that stunned me.

“You just haven’t found the right ER yet.”

It was then that I realized that I had to come out.

No, I am not talking about coming out as gay. I’m talking about telling the people around me, my family and friends, about my life choice to leave clinical medicine. I didn’t realize how my choice would affect them and how they see me. Like telling people about sexual orientation, revealing a dissatisfaction with “being a doctor” can be shocking to people who see you in a certain way. They now have to see you as a person who is unhappy at work, who has other dreams or aspirations other than medicine, and who is not fulfilled in a career that American society has somehow glorified and idolized. Therefore, I need to come out… again.

My mother’s words struck a chord that pulled me back 15 years ago. How many gay men and women have told their parents that they were homosexual only to be told, “You just haven’t found the right girl/boy yet.”

Well, it has been 10 years, and I still haven’t found the right ER. And, Mom, it isn’t that I haven’t tried. Believe me. I have dated around. I have tried small community ERs and large, city ones. I have flirted with urgent care centers. I have tried long-term relationships where I have stayed with one ER for years, and I have experimented with short-term, per diem trysts. None of them have satisfied me. As much as I want it to work out, whenever I am in the ER, I can’t help but fantasize about something else. Something more satisfying. I have to admit that I have desires that the ER cannot satisfy. I need something different, something more.

Now, I’m sure my mother doesn’t want to hear this. Coming out can be difficult not only for the person but also for his or her loved ones. For some reason, becoming a doctor has taken on a certain mystique, sort of like becoming a priest. Once you are a doctor, you are always a doctor, at least in many people’s eyes. Asking those around me, in particular my parents, to alter that perception of me is not easy.  I understand that it will take time for my mother to adjust to this new reality. I also understand that this transition may be aided by her two close friends, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.

Coming out for a parent also affects how she interacts with people outside of our relationship. One of the time honored perqs of having a physician for a child is bragging about this to your friends who preferably have children who have failed out of beauty school or who have become roadies for the local Grateful Dead cover band. For my mother to confess to her book club that I have decided to leave medicine must be akin to telling them that I am leaving my beautiful, blonde, real-estate agent wife and 3 adorable children for a drag queen named Miss Kitty Litter. I can hear the conversation now:

“Mimi, how is that doctor son of yours doing?”

There is an awkward pause.

“Well,” Mom hesitantly begins. “He has decided to leave medicine.”

There is a shocked silence. But now that the confession has been uttered the dam has broken, and she tells all.

“He says he doesn’t feel happy as a doctor. He wants to quit and become… Oh, I don’t know, a… a…”

“A what?”

“A marine biologist!”

There are gasps of horror all around. Chardonnay is spilled on dog eared copies of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Finally, someone takes my mother’s hand and whispers..

“Don’t worry, Mimi. Don’t worry. I’m sure it is only a phase.”

And with that the coming out comparison is complete.

So, with my career transition in its beginning phases, I have come to understand that this decision doesn’t just affect me. It is something that touches my family, my friends, and my spouse. It is something that, while necessary, is a life-changing event for not only me, but for those who care about me. Nevertheless, I will forge on. I know that, no matter how difficult it may be, this change is for the good and that I, and those around me, will be the better for it. It is, therefore, with confidence and no small amount of pride that I proclaim:

“I’m here! I want to change my career! Get used to it!”

Latest Posts

Find what you're looking for:

The Doctors Crossing


  1. Louise D Turkula, MD on April 19, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I found the transition to be far more difficult than I had thought. As you said, it is an identity issue. People don’t know what to call you anymore. I had shared my thoughts off and on in the OR and at home, but these remarks were not taken seriously. I had the decision made for me though when I developed rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to wield a scalpel anymore. So, not only did I leave my practice, but I was “sick”. I was suddenly treated as a patient, not a person, least of all like a doctor. No one “could believe” i wasn’t going to practice anymore.
    That was 10 years ago. Once my treatments were stabilized–I was very ill–I pursued my avocations of sculpting and raising horses.
    People now are surprised to learn I am a doctor but the knowledge and identity never really leaves me, and I have had the privilege of being able to keep up my license with CMEs and be a “go to” person for those who are my friends. I never treat or give advice, but I help explain things. I love my much simplified life. I keep in touch with colleagues, I read medical journals, though now I read so many other things I never had time for!

  2. AJ on April 19, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Excellent, heartfelt article– I empathize with you and appreciate that you took the initiative to put your ordeal into words to educate. Maybe authorship is in yr future? –AJ

  3. Bill Dueease on April 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Very well written expose of the real and powerful pressures placed upon children by parents to fulfill the career dreams of the parents first. Your story sounds so similar to that of one of our clients (We will call him Sam) but with one major twist. Sam received all of the same pressures from his parents, especially his mother to become a medical doctor, but for a number of reasons, Sam chose not to complete medical training. He became a lawyer instead and chose to specialize in suing doctors and hospitals for malpractice and such. He was very intent, even angry at bringing down doctors. Because of his intensity, he became very good and won lots of money. But he led a miserable life as a sole practitioner, and always fighting, with few friends. He too had been dreaming of leaving the legal profession, to change his unhappy life, and at age 52 posed the possibility to his mother that he would seek another career. Her response was quick, pointed, and devastating to him. She said “Oh goodie, now we will finally have a doctor in the family.” She would not let go!

    Luckily, he came to our career-coaching group and when his coach asked him what he loved, he came alive and human again describing his deep passions for sailing. When his coach then asked him how he could convert his passion for sailing into a new career, he went on in detail how he would buy a sailing school in the Caribbean he had been watching for years and how he would captain his own large sailboat for personal charters throughout the islands. He had been organizing his dream life for over 10 years. Then when his coach asked the next question he was flabbergasted. She asked him, “ So what’s keeping you from your dream?” After finally answering “Nothing” he decided to do it. He flew to the Caribbean Island the next day, bought the sailing school, bought a piece of land for his house, returned home, closed his legal practice, and loaded up his sailboat for his personal sail to his new dream life. All he needed was permission to do what he wanted, and her question elicited that permission.

    I hope the Dr. writer has given himself permission to do what he wants and pursue his own dream career.

  4. Julie Quinn on April 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    I would love to post this as a guest post on my blog – how can I get in touch with the author to ask? I, too, am a physician who has broken up with clinical medicine and am going through a similar “coming out” process. People just don’t know what to make of a successful physician who willingly walks away! It definitely confounds expectations.

  5. Rob Baginski on May 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I appreciate the comments that have been made. Yes, I am the author of this article. It is indeed based upon a real conversation I had with my mother. For me, my decision to enter medicine was hugely influenced by my parents, although I feel obligated to say that they did not push me overtly. Instead, I was more influenced by the enthusiasm and approval they expressed when I first considered a medical career. While they never made obvious attempts to steer me into medicine, the pride they very publicly felt at having a “doctor in the family” was enough to push an insecure young adult into choosing a path that made them happy.

    Now that I am beginning a career change, they are supportive, although they make no effort to hide that they do not understand my choice. Yes, I have given myself permission to find my true passion. Regardless, while I am already altering my perception of myself from Dr. Baginski (a title that never felt comfortable to me) to something else, I find others are not as willing to let that persona go. It will take time, but it will happen.

    By the way, my mother would be unhappy with the way I have portrayed her and her drinking habits. I must admit that I have altered facts about her alcohol use for comic effect. In truth, she does not drink wine. She drinks Jack Daniels…straight up.

  6. Amy on August 29, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Hi Rob,
    Schema therapy might help you and your mother.

    • Heather Fork on September 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Hello Amy,

      Thank you for your comment. I am not familiar with Schema therapy and do not necessarily think that the author of this blog was looking for any help regarding his relationship with his mother, but for those who may be interested I have posted a brief description I copied from the internet on Schema therapy.

      “Schema therapy is an innovative psychotherapy developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young for personality disorders, chronic depression, and other difficult individual and couples problems. Schema therapy integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, object relations, and gestalt therapy into one unified, systematic approach to treatment. Schema therapy has recently been blended with mindfulness meditation for clients who want to add a spiritual dimension to their lives.” This was copied from the site.

      Since I do not know anything about this type of therapy, I am not endorsing it or recommending it, but since you mentioned it, wanted to provide some information here.

      Thank you for your interest Amy.


      • Amy on September 24, 2012 at 9:33 pm

        Hello Heather,

        Thank you for posting that information. My understanding was that schema therapy can be used to help people make the changes in their life they want to, if they can stick with it. A Dr. Arnoud Arntz did a study in Holland about six years ago. On the website, I heard Dr. Young say that he thought many people could benefit from learning schema therapy techniques. This is the link to that interview.


        • Heather Fork on September 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm

          Thank you Amy for mentioning this additional piece of information for those who may be interested.

  7. Fundraising Strategies on December 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Career transition is a process. People will still see you as a doctor for some time but they are going to get used of not seeing you as such in the long run. I’m sure it’ll get to that. Meantime, just do whatever you love doing and may you find true happiness in your new chosen career. Good luck to you and more power!

    Fundraising Strategies

    • Heather Fork on December 30, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Thank you kindly for your encouraging and positive response!

Leave a Comment

Doctors-Crossing-Physicians-Insider-Guide (1)

GetThe Physician's Insider Guide

15 of the most common FAQs on physician career transition

Sign up below to get the resource to jump-start your career transformation! You will also receive the latest blogs and updates from Heather.

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!

- Tim Owolabi, MD

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
Untitled design

"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