Which animal most closely resembles your negotiating style as a physician?


As a physician, what’s your negotiating style?

Specifically, how do you approach having to negotiate a physician employment contract?

Are you like the mouse?

Do you prefer to avoid negotiating at all, hoping there will be enough bread crumbs left on the table for a meager meal?

Are you like the lion?

Do you go in with teeth bared and eyes all squinty, ready to fight for what you want, knowing you won’t back down unless you get it?

Or are you like the dog?

Are you confident you’ll get the ball and have some fun too, but also understand the give and take of belonging to a pack?

It’s very common to be uncomfortable with negotiating for yourself, especially for a nonclinical career where you are less certain of your value.

It’s also possible to kill a deal by having too high demands or nit-picking an employment contract. Sometimes physicians from higher-earning specialties have unrealistic expectations about what’s an appropriate salary in a nonclinical job.

Since the stakes can be very high in terms of leaving money on the table as well as in signing contracts that are not in your favor, it’s very important to be able to negotiate for yourself.

Today I’m going to give you a 5-step process that you can use to make sure you’re asking for what’s appropriate and doing so in a way that preserves long-term relationships.

Before we jump to the process, I want to see if you identify with any of these common reasons I hear for avoiding negotiating?

I don’t want to come across as greedy with my new employer.

These contracts are standard for new hires. They’re not really negotiable so I’m not going to ask.

I grew up in a family/culture where it’s impolite to bargain or ask for more than what’s offered.

Nice women don’t negotiate. That’s for men or attorneys.  

Negotiating is uncomfortable. I’d rather sign the darn thing and get on with it!

If you identify with some or all of the above, don’t worry, you can become a good negotiator.

There’s a lot to gain by learning this skill of negotiating. It’s possible that with less than a 30-minute conversation, you could increase your earning potential by 10’s of thousands of dollars over time.

You can also ensure that you’re getting the best deal in terms of benefits, and address onerous issues, such as tail coverage, giving notice, and restrictive covenants.

Companies have NO PROBLEM being clear about what they want and what’s important to them. This is business. You have every right to make sure what you’re signing works for you.

You never know what’s possible unless you ask.

I had a client who was hired recently into a very established corporate company. The number of vacation days was a sticking point for her. Even though it seemed likely that the vacation time was not negotiable, she went ahead and asked anyway.

When she mentioned that the vacation time was an issue, she did so politely and made sure to express her interest in the company and position.

To our surprise, she was actually given a whole extra week of vacation!

The worst that she could have been told was, “No!”

If you ask politely and are reasonable, you’re not going to kill the deal. By asking, you know you didn’t leave money or opportunity on the table.

There is huge value in speaking up for yourself, regardless of the outcome. Maybe you don’t end up getting what you asked for, but you do gain self-respect and confidence by advocating for yourself and not doing the mouse thing.

If you ask politely for what you need in order to be happy with the offer, and the company declines, it’s better to have found this out upfront. You now have information that’s helpful in deciding if you go forward or decline.

Now let’s look at 5 steps you can use for successful negotiations.

Step One: Do your research: Through networking and online research you can often get a reasonable idea of the appropriate salary range. Glassdoor.com provides some salary ranges.  Physicians Facebook groups can be a good resource, or LinkedIn. Keep in mind that salaries can vary depending on geography, experience, or specialty. Review your contract carefully and have an attorney review it as well if you have any questions about the terms or language.

Step Two: Get clear on what’s important to you. What is non-negotiable to you in terms of salary? Schedule? Vacation? Benefits? What are you willing to give in on? Prioritize what’s most important and know what would be a deal-killer.

Step Three: Know your value: If you’re getting an offer, this company wants you! Write down all the skills, experience, and personal qualities you’re bringing to this company. If you’re like a lot of physicians, you underestimate your value. Knowing your value is not being egotistical; it’s having a realistic picture of what you bring to the table and can contribute. Coming to the negotiating table with confidence and self-assurance will serve you well.

Step Four: Determine what’s important to this company. In his book, Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed  in Work and Life, author Stuart Diamond talks about “seeing” the pictures in the other person’s head. He says when you know what’s important to the people or business you’re negotiating with, you will be a more effective negotiator. Put yourself in their shoes, if you were them, what would you want assurance about in a new hire?

Step Five: Focus on a win-win outcome: The best negotiations are those that are a respectful give-and-take conversation where the goal is to arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome for both parties. If you approach negotiating as a natural way to determine if there’s an overall good fit, no matter what happens, you will have more information. You will either feel good moving forward, or you will know this is not the job for you.

Another book I recommend is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.  This book isn’t specifically about job negotiations but will give fantastic guidance on how to have difficult conversations.

A mouse can become brave when it really wants that cheese.

A lion can purr when it needs to be softer.

We all have the ability to channel our “inner canine” and find a way to get that bone!

I’d love to hear about your negotiating experiences. 

Squeak, roar, arff!! Here’s to your negotiating success!

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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!

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

Today...my 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
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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. 

- 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