What changed for me at the SEAK Nonclinical Careers Conference?


This was my 10th year at the SEAK Nonclinical Career conference in Chicago.

I attend SEAK every October to mentor and sometimes speak.

This year there were close to 400 physicians looking for options besides patient care.

What has changed in 10 years?

Most things are still the same. It’s a fantastic conference and always delivers.

There are still burned out doctors who want to leave practice.

There are still doctors who want to make clinical practice work.

There are still doctors who have creative and entrepreneurial ideas they want to try out.

The core topics covered are fairly similar over the years. This year’s lineup of nonclinical careers included:

Strategies for Career TransitionLinkedIn
Public Speaking
Life Insurance
Health Insurance/Utilization Review
Locum Tenens
Medical Science Liaison
Medical Communications and Advertising
Hospice Medicine
Principal Investigator
Informatics and Healthcare IT
Medical Writing
Contract Research Organizations (CRO)
Disability Reviews
Physician Advising

I grabbed my syllabus from 2010, dusted it off, and compared the topics.

The offerings were similar, with a notable difference this year of the inclusion of talks on coaching, telemedicine, and Start-ups.

In 2010 there was a talk, “Selling Your Practice.”  How many private practices are there left to sell at this point?

The food was similar – white bagels and cream cheese with fruit and cereal for breakfast.

Lunch was a buffet with salads, various iterations of fish and chicken in red or white sauces, veggies, soup, and a choice of desserts.

The random comments from attendees I’d hear about the conference were similar –

“This is like drinking from a fire hydrant.”

 “I’m really glad I came. I didn’t know there were all these options.”

 “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

 “I have no idea what I want to do.”

 But there is one thing that has changed.

It happened at my mentoring table – more than several times.

It happened when I’d see tears welling up in the eyes of a physician mom who has no time for herself and little time for her family because of caring for patients.  She always feels exhausted and thinks she’s never doing a good enough job at work or home.

It happened when I’d see the pain on the face of a physician who’s been working for years without joy in a career that’s the wrong fit in order to provide for his family.

The tears and pain are not new. They have been there every year, and they often bring tears to my eyes too.

I feel the pain of what so many doctors have to endure to just do their job and take care of their families. When do they ever get to really enjoy their lives? It has always made me upset and angry.

But this year it felt different. Sharper.

The words in my head as I looked upon these faces were,

“This is so, so wrong.”

No one should have to work so hard to get into a profession, train like a marathoner to learn a craft, and then suffer on a daily basis to provide care for others.

Being a plow horse sounds like a dream job next to the reality of being a physician these days. Fresh air. Exercise. Accomplishment.

I know this is nothing new. It is and has been this way for a while. And I’ve always felt it was wrong.

But I’m feeling it’s time to do something more about the plight of our own.

The rallying cry, “Physicians owing it!” comes to mind as a slogan to capture our self-empowerment to effect change.

Physicians owning it can mean a lot of different things, but an overriding theme is for us to be honest about whatever we are experiencing (not hiding) and taking action to regain more autonomy and respect.

The individual actions may seem small and insignificant, but many small things over time can have an impact. They also help us feel like our contribution matters.

These are some different ways I’m seeing physicians “owning it” more:

Acknowledging to themselves and others how they honestly feel.

Being more willing to have their true identity published on blogs about their transition story.

 Letting administrators know they’re experiencing burnout rather than hiding this fact and soldiering on or quitting.

 Talking and writing publicly about their burnout, depression, malpractice suits, and colleagues who’ve committed suicide.

 Negotiating to work fewer hours or have a different schedule, even if the party line is “No.”

 Getting involved with the development of wellness programs within their institutions – and being paid for it.

 Helping each other out with resources and support in Facebook groups and other communities.

 Creating podcasts and on-line courses to help each other with nonclinical options and side-gigs.

 Refusing to let guilt and shame keep them stuck in the wrong job or career.

The problem is so big and complex – it can feel like trying to stack grains of sand to effect any change – futile.

But grains of sand put together can make a path. And that path can start leading somewhere.

We can all be contributing our own grains of sand to the path forward, in our unique way.

Does anyone want to start a “Physicians Owning It!” movement?

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to “own it” and reclaim the autonomy and respect that you earned and so deserve!

We can all help each other. We can each make a difference. We can create the path.

Be back soon,

PS – If you want to read my post about the SEAK conference in 2015, click here.

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  1. Helen Rhodes MD on October 24, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    “but grains of sand put together can make a path…”


    “Owning it” is essential to maintaining the respect and dignity for our profession which we deserve and have earned.

    I am fortunate to be experiencing a “career renaissance” through running my own solo Gynecology micropractice and doing full scope OB/Gyn locum tenens in underserved areas of rural NM, TX and KS.

    I also have other side gigs…

    Unfortunately, the traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model does not adequately pay physicians for providing quality care in an unhurried, relaxed and caring environment. Hence the financial necessity for “side gigs”.

    Despite this financial reality, I have chosen to continue my Gynecology micropractice because I still love what I do, have passion for helping my patients and feel this practice model must remain viable in today’s healthcare environment.

    I also want to be a role model and mentor to other physicians–especially those early in their careers.

    Thank you Heather for all that you have done and continue to do to help physicians maintain their autonomy!


    • Heather Fork on October 24, 2019 at 9:09 pm

      You’re so welcome Helen! Thank you for being a loyal reader and often sharing your valuable thoughts and perspective. You obviously are very connected to your values in creating a practice to care for women in a way that works for you and them. It takes a lot of strength to buck the trends and do what is important to you. How lovely that you are willing to be a role model and mentor to other physicians. You have so much to offer! Love your spirit and generosity. You are on the path! THank you.

  2. Harry Reahl, MD on October 24, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the neat peak at SEAK.

    I had a thought; part of owning it, is naming “it”. We need to name “it” correctly.

    As physicians, we know the power of a correct diagnosis leading to targeted therapy vs. empiric therapy directed at symptoms. We have learned the tragedy of blaming the patient/victim in historically failed treatment models of addictions, depression, epilepsy, HIV, homosexuality, incest, leprosy, obesity, poverty, rape, schizophrenia, sequelae of toxic exposures, STDs and I am sure many other conditions. “Burn-out” should join this list.

    Burn-out is a description of a response the physician has to years of abuse. Burn-out is a physician in crisis, in moral distress (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3912298/)”, knowing the right thing to do, but being unable to do it. Burn-out is not the problem. Abuse is the problem.

    Burn-out blames the physician. A psychologist with all the facts would not say a teenager is surely, has poor school performance, has no interest in extracurriculars, dreads school, dreads home, just needs to practice mindfulness and effective time management if dad were hitting him, mom molesting him, and kids at school bullying him! The psychologists, knowing all the facts, would call out (and report) all the abuse; why not with physicians?

    Burn-out is just one response to abuse. It might be interesting to create a whole “Out” symptomatology, recognizing them all as responses (some of which are extremely maladaptive/illegal/deadly) to the abuse doctors suffer. Off the top of my head:
    Cop-out: the physician caving in to patient’s and institutions unreasonable / ill advised / illegal demands.
    Sell-out: the physician initiating illegal activities (fraud & abuse, illegal prescription writing, boundary issues)
    Check-out: physician suicide
    Shoot-out: physician homicide (not sure this ever happens, but there was a case in LI, NY in which a cardiologist was involved in an arson/ murder plot against another cardiologist. A stockpile of weapons & explosives were recovered from his home)
    Punch-out: physician involved in physical altercations not in self defense
    Time-out: physician who take extended time off, away from practice.
    Zone-out: physician who goes through the motions of practice, provide adequate patient care, without joy or enthusiasm.

    Naming these responses is not to sanction but to identify; the physician still needs to be helped, society needs to be protected, just as a patient needs to be treated, and their contacts need to be protected. However, treatment has to be comprehensive, directed at the cause, which includes an abusive system not valuing the personhood of physicians.

    In my own thinking, I’m changing “There is a burned-out physician” to “There is an abuse-survivor physician”. Feel the difference?

    The “it” is “abuse”. We have been abused. We need to own it before our abusers every will. No matter where our transitions take us, we need to work towards a world in which abuse of physicians is unacceptable.

    • Heather Fork on October 24, 2019 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you Harry for your very thoughtful and description response. I do agree whole-heartedly that a lot of what is happening to physicians is abusive. There are some eerie parallels with the workers in the sweatshops back in the tenement era. Long hours, little choice over schedule, no real breaks, and that feeling of being trapped in a system that just wants to use you. I think the “it” can mean many different things, and abuse can certainly be one of them. When I initially thought of the phrase, the “it” to me is the truth of who we are and what we are experiencing. Abuse may be part of the “it.” And the “it” can also be a feeling of empowerment. A desire to make positive changes. Owning it can simply be owning one’s path and refusing to not be a victim, to not be abused. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and perspective.

  3. Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD on October 25, 2019 at 2:09 am

    This is a wonderful post. I first encountered SEAK in 2016, at the recommendation of Dr. Pam Pappas (www.drpampappas.com), when I was at a crossroads in my career, unsure about what the “next step” for me was. I then heard your keynote in 2016. The whole SEAK experience was eye-opening because from 2009 to 2016, I thought I was “the only one”, but was surprised to see so many different options and possibilities, and to see this huge community of like-minded individuals, and as they say, “the rest is history”.

    Thank you so much for your contributions to this community!

    Below is my website and my contact information

    -Amazon Author Central – https://amzn.to/2PaQn4p
    -LinkedIn – http://bit.ly/2SrQcOY


    • Heather Fork on October 25, 2019 at 3:18 am

      Hi Chris! It’s great to hear from you and I enjoyed getting to meet you at SEAk in 2016. I”m glad it was a pivotal experience for you. You have made a great career for yourself with your real estate ventures and books. I hope you are doing great and having fun with your entrepreneurial pursuits. Thanks so much for reading the blog and commenting. It always makes my day to receive comments.

  4. Dana Chambers MD on October 25, 2019 at 4:34 am

    This “survivor” is squeaking by financially doing telemedicine, which is sometimes very demeaning work where patients eat, put on makeup, shop the aisles at Wal-mart, lay in bed, blame you for their bad internet service and act like you are a nuisance they have to endure. Then I get “reviewed” like I’m a server at the local chain restaurant. Does the fact I’m “sweet” or “Southern” have anything to do with my clinical expertise, my 20+ years of experience??

    It’s a paycheck, not a passion. But I’m a damn good actress! I cannot go back to the insanity of office practice either. For a career I’ve wanted since I childhood, it has been heartbreaking to see it end but also a relief. I’m going to dig deep to find that new path, those grains of sand. Heather’s blogs are a lifeline to that!

    I don’t need a pedestal but we’ve fallen so far off the ledge, I can’t see up anymore. I am already saving to be at SEAK next year!!!
    Thanks, Heather!!

    • Heather Fork on October 25, 2019 at 10:49 pm

      Hi Dana! I had no idea patients were doing all these different things on telemedicine calls, but I guess it doesn’t surprise me. Oh dear. Very funny about being a “damn good actress.” It’s too bad you’re not being paid for your high level acting skills. I am sure you could rival Julia Roberts in these challenging moments when you have to bite your tongue.

      I’m exicted to hear that you will be at SEAK next year! I will look forwrad to meeting you. Make sure to check with me prior to the confernce so I can give your some insider tips on making the most of the conference.

      Find your support on that ledge and know that there are steps leading back up again.
      Thanks for your lively comments and being a loyal reader of the blog. Much appreciated.

    • trusandra taylor on October 29, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      Dear Dana,

      I was very moved by your post and wanted to respond immediately but was hesitant because I didn’t want to offend you by being forthright in my response. Subsequently, I recognized that we must all reach out to each other and must not hold back in an effort to help.

      First, I want to say that I hear you about the insanity of office practice. I have practiced for > thirty years and know the toll that it can take on your well-being. Yes, I have experienced recognized rewards but on the other hand office practice and direct patient care can lead to unwelcome enervation.

      Yes, you deserve better than what you are experiencing in your telemedicine practice. However, I must ask would you accept the described demeaning patient behavior in an office practice? I certainly would not and require that patients do not eat or drink, talk on the cell phone or engage in any other distracting behavior during their office visits with me. It is not fair to you and them and does not allow you to provide the very best care that you are obligated to provide. I further recognize that you may feel you are not in control of this in a telemedicine practice and feel pressured to allow this behavior because you will be “rated” by the patients. Even outside of telemedicine, we are rated by patients and frequently the ratings are unfair and not truthful. This is the state of healthcare today. I could go on and on about this. Enough is enough and you should have ability to provide feedback to the telemedicine organization without feeling that you are “complaining”. After all this behavior impedes your ability to demonstrate your expertise and provide excellence in patient care.

      Regardless, Dana, and the bottom line of my message to you is that I recognize you are not doing what you love to do. As you begin your journey and prepare to attend SEAK next year, focus up “what you love to do”. That is the key, no matter what. This has worked for me as I am enjoying my journey.

      Peace and Blessings!
      Trusandra Taylor, MD

      • Heather on October 29, 2019 at 6:30 pm

        Thank you Trussandra for replying to Trussandra with your empowering words!

  5. Trusandra Taylor on October 29, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Yes, it is time to start a “Physicians Owning It!” movement and I am on board!

    First, I am letting go of the guilt and shame for feeling that I seek alternatives for practicing medicine and want to leave direct patient care; that I feel burnout from this experience and most importantly that I am not doing what I truly love to do.

    To reclaim my autonomy and respect, I am practicing “self-fullness”. Please read Heather’s previous blog on the difference between selfish vs. self-full. Practicing “self-fullness” is working for me to create the path leading to my journey to freedom.

    Don’t wait, begin now! Nameste!

    Trusandra Taylor, MD

    • Heather on October 29, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      I am excited to have you on board Trusandra. You are setting a great example of Physicians Owning it and taking action to reclaim your respect and autonomy. I see how you are doing this in your personal life for yourself and being a support for other physicians. You are so right to let go of any shame or guilt from finding what works for you professionally. I do believe we give the most to the world when we are doing something that we enjoy and fulfills us. We benefit, those around us benefit, the word benefits. Nothing to feel guilty about. We can go into medicine with the full intention
      and desire to practice, and there is no way we can see in a crystal ball and predict how we will feel or how circumstances may change. Thank you Trussandra for sharing your path forward.

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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!

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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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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.

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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.

- 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!

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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.

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Family Physician
KB Karen Barnard Photo

"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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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

"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