Is this three-letter word shutting your brain down?

Man with brain exploding with question marks

One of the biggest problems I see my clients having – and it happens to me too– is shutting down an idea prematurely because of a three-letter word.

This three-letter word getting in the way is rather innocuous.

It’s a word we use every day.

The word rhymes with cow, now, and POW!

Yes, you guessed it, the word is:


Innocent enough. No sharp edges. It’s rather a nice-sounding word. But when we append it with a question mark, it morphs into a brick wall. A parade-rainer. A wet blanket.


How am I going to find a nonclinical job?

How on earth could I start a business?

How do I make a living from my passion?

How do I network on LinkedIn?

I see this shutting down phenomenon happen when clients start to tell me excitedly about some idea they have. It might be a business idea or something they wish they could try out. I can hear the energy and enthusiasm in their voice. I start to get goosebumps just listening to them. And then their energy sinks and they get quiet.

Invariably what comes next is….

But I have no idea HOW I would ever do that!

I blame med school for this. Or rather all of our training. Not directly.. it’s more of a side effect of how we learn. To learn how to do things, we have been in highly structured learning environments for most of our lives. We’ve become “institutionalized” learners.

We’ve learned how to do all sorts of things including how to palpate a liver, put in a central line, diagnose zebras, read x-rays, treat cancer, sniff out a malingerer, etc.

But we learned these things in a structured learning environment. There were teachers, mentors, a defined curriculum, and degrees to be earned. We wore special coats, took examinations and received certificates. It was OK to not know and be learning as we went along. We knew if we stuck with the program, it would take us to a defined point of accomplishment. Success was all but guaranteed.

If we didn’t know how to do something, someone could show us or teach us. We got comfortable learning in a system. It may not have been easy but it was a clearly defined way to learn.

Fast forward, when we become “attendings” and doctors in the real world, we are adults and experts in our own right. It seems incongruous to be a beginner again and not know how to do things.

It’s understandable when we’re faced with having to figure out the how without a framework and obvious stepping stones, our brain wants to shut down.

Instead of feeling like we can forge ahead and do some bushwhacking, we may get seduced by a sanctioned program.

For example, we might be more willing to pay $100K to do an MBA if we’re wanting to learn business skills rather than parse together our own learning program using paid mentors, taking some online courses, and reading some books. With the MBA, there’s a structured program, a defined plan, and we get a certificate and credential at the end.

So what do we do? As of yet, there isn’t a fellowship for “physicians figuring it out” or in nonclinical careers.

That could very well happen. But in the meantime, we can…

Get Scrappy!

Getting scrappy means you believe that you can figure out the how and not let it stymie you.

Getting scrappy means you allow yourself to be more like a kid and stay excited by your ideas, realistic or not, until you can at least explore them.

Getting scrappy means you allow yourself to be a learner and not worry overly about the outcome. There is no winning or losing, but winning and learning. (I heard that somewhere).  

This is a great time to get scrappy as a physician because more than ever, there are amazing resources for learning how to do things outside of our traditional institutions of education.

Our fellow physicians (and others) are creating resources and programs to help you in many fascinating and exciting ways.

It’s a veritable grassroots movement of physicians who refuse to accept the endpoint where our structured learning has brought us and are paving the way for many alternative pathways.

There are physician Facebook groups, podcasts, coaches, online courses, mentors, learning forums, books, retreats, and even physician weight loss programs.

I’d like to give a shout-out here to one resource in particular, Dr. John Jurica, who created and hosts the Nonclinical Career Podcast.  You can hear his interviews with over 100 physicians using their degrees and skills in many different ways.

We may have been inadvertently brainwashed to think our learning has to be in a formal setting, but the truth is that we’re all smart, we know how to work hard, we have skills to beat the band, and we care about making a difference.

If there is something we want to do, heck YES, we can figure it out!

I’d love to hear what you’re wanting to do that you’re saying heck YES to!

Be back soon,


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  1. Jane Zendarski on March 12, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    I thought the word was ‘but’ rather than ‘how’. I want to schedule a session with you.

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 4:18 pm

      Ah!! Good one!!! I remember a former client describing to me how when her patients would start to object about a certain treatment plan (she was Urogyn) she would say to them, “Don’t give me that But-Face!” It’s so true, the word But can be a real show-stopper. Happy to help you out, Jane. I’ll send you an email.

  2. Lynn Amsbury on March 12, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Yeah, I thought it was “but” too! I think they’re both equally relevant.

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      How interesting! I wonder how many people were also thinking “but?” Yes, I agree, they are similar – both brake pedals, but they don’t have to be!

  3. Sue Zimmermann on March 12, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Your post reminded me that only a short time ago I had no idea HOW to make slides for a presentation, use LinkedIn, or write a resume. I don’t know why these things were so intimidating for me, but they were. Thanks, Heather!

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 5:32 pm

      I’m glad you acknowledged that these were unfamiliar and intimidating – it’s true for so many of use. But you figured out the how and these things brought you new career opportunities! I can totally relate. I remember having to figure out how to send out my first email campaign through MailChimp to all of you and it really taxed me. I just wanted someone to sit next to me and tell me what to do. In retrospect, these things that seem so challenging most just involve a series of steps, none of them in and of themselves super hard. The hard can come in when we have to put ourselves out there and be seen! But we can get used to that too. Thanks for your great comment Sue!

  4. Justin on March 13, 2020 at 1:51 am

    Another one for “but” … that’s what I thought was coming too!

    • Heather Fork on March 13, 2020 at 1:58 am

      Well that makes me laugh! I hope at least there was some surprise element!

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

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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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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 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
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.

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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!

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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. 

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.

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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! 

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. 

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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