Physician Career Transition Posse – Meet Dr. P.


Welcome back to another episode of the Physician Career Transition Posse.

Today I’m excited to introduce to you another new amazing member, Dr. P, a physician and surgeon who has a heart-rendering and captivating story to share with you.

I’ll let him take it from here.

Why medicine?

I have a heart for helping people.  I also liked working with my hands and mind.  Caring for people came naturally to me. My father was a pediatrician.  It was not uncommon to discuss loose stools or pinworms over the dinner table. My dad was a dedicated physician.  He worked six days a week for over 30 years, but it kept him away from his family.  As a result, our family relationships suffered.  My parents divorced when I was 7 years old, my dad remarried a woman 20 years younger than him, and he became less and less reliable as far as being a father to his children or leader of our family.  My mom fell apart mentally and never recovered.  I grew up in a very broken family unit much like so many others.  My dad always kept a picture of a kid in his wallet who thanked him for saving his life. Maybe in some fairytale kind of way, I had hoped that I would do the same. One of my dad’s friends from medical school was a general surgeon, and he allowed me to scrub into surgery with him during my college years. It was exciting and there was no doubt that if I was given the opportunity, there was nothing else I would rather do than be a surgeon and practice medicine.  

My six-year surgical residency ended in 2006, and I started my first job in as a solo practitioner. I still remember my first check, and it was more money than I’ve ever known. I bought a house and a fast car.  After years of training, I was now on my own.   I focused on patients and was known to give quality and compassionate medical and surgical care to those in need. I was on top of the world and life was turning out well after years of difficult school and grueling training. I met the love of my life and we were married in 2007 and started a family later that same year. The hard work and dedication were paying off, but the things I disliked about my own father had now surfaced in me, and I made work my priority to the detriment of those that loved me most.  I’ve always said that there is never a shortage of work as a doctor, always a need to fill. Work became my identity, and it was what gave me importance and security.   I was paid a lot of money to do what I loved to do – take care of those in need.  

Then life changed in an instant in 2008 when our one-year-old daughter died unexpectedly.  The initial shock and veil of confusion gave way to unspeakable agony. I could not stop crying.  How could this be?  I was confused.  I felt pain so great that I thought I was going to lose my mind and despaired of life itself.  It was a horrific time for us.  Before I knew what hit me, death had surrounded me, and I had nothing in my arsenal to combat it.   

Everything changed.  

It wasn’t just that our only child was gone, but it felt like so much more was stolen. Our future hopes were dashed, laughter and joy were gone, and any amount of peace was quickly effaced by torrential waves of grief and flashbacks that did not let up for years. Death swung hard and hit me square and threatened to keep me down for the count. 

I also felt cheated. Here I am giving my life to help others with their health, and death snuck in the back door and took my healthy daughter. It disrupted and challenged everything I knew. It was very clear that I was not immune to death and its catastrophic consequences.

Our perceived life of success and happiness was dashed. I had been suddenly forced into circumstances that I had not chosen and could never have imagined. A new chapter in my life was already beginning, and I was not prepared for the dark abyss that laid ahead.

Medical training taught me to keep going at all personal cost, never show weakness, and put the patient first.

I still had a practice to run and bills to pay, so back to work I went after only one week. Many of my memories of those early years after my daughter passed have vanished from my memory, much like most of my childhood. I remember being angry, lost, and hopeless because I thought my life would be like this forever. Hardness of heart, victim mentality, and hopelessness were my new companions. It was exhausting trying to be in control of everything. Work offered an escape from the reality of my own pain and forced me to focus on something other than myself in my own thoughts. Prior to my daughter’s death, I was the life of the party and full of life; however, when she died, something in me died as well. I isolated myself from other people outside of work. Oddly enough, I was a fantastic doctor because I gave it my all when I was there. I was always available and ready to go to the hospital, ER, or OR in a moment’s notice. I  prayed with many families, spoke at patient funerals, and held many hands in their time of need.   Because I was still in the healing process, it was exhausting to care for the hurting.  

I continued to give everything I had physically and mentally to my job.  You would not know it from looking at the outside, but inside I often felt like the walking dead. 

I had nothing in reserve to give to my loving wife who was also hurting deeply and felt alone in our marriage. For years, I worked, self-medicated with alcohol, and spent weekends in bed. My tears had no end.  The overwhelming sadness and feelings of hopelessness became a pattern that would prove tough to break out of.

We had two boys (now ages 10 and 7). The threat of death never seemed too far away over the next 10 years.  Both boys had febrile seizures where they stopped breathing, turned blue, and appeared to have died in our arms. They lived, and I thank God.  They are amazing little dudes.  But the PTSD panic button got hit again and again. Any progress or healing that may have occurred was now replaced with returning thoughts of death, instability, fear, loss, anger, and terror in our souls. I also had gallbladder surgery, and the general surgeon, who was a friend of mine, told me that I had “complex anatomy”.  Doctor code for something bad almost happened. To top it off, our house got a direct hit by a tornado causing a 120-year-old oak tree to come crashing through our roof about 4 feet from us all.  I promise I’m not making this stuff up!  

I was determined to not let anything stop me from what I thought was my purpose and identity, being a doctor.

I most recently worked as an employed physician for a large and publicly traded healthcare company. I was working 70 hours per week at a trauma center, saw 30 patients per day, and took call every third night and weekend.   It was busy and the patients were sick.  We had no ancillary help and was called back to the hospital most days while on call. Despite a 98% patient satisfaction rate, administration continued to push us to see more patients and do more cases.  I did almost 1000 OR surgical cases in the previous 2 years and couldn’t believe that they wanted me to give more. Something I did not have. I was exhausted.  They also were forcing us to start a satellite clinic 30 miles away.  Hospital administration was also forcing in-coming emergency transfers which were not appropriate.  Due to a poorly run OR, add on cases would not get started until 10 PM or later. It was a perfect storm.

I quit drinking heavily 7 years ago and was trying my best to keep stress low through exercise, eating right, and meditation. It wasn’t enough.  The cost of being a doctor in my current situation was simply too much, and I put in my 90 days notice.  This prompted many calls and discussions from local and corporate branches of their healthcare system.  They wanted to hear my concerns but they could not fix the broken system.  

I was fortunate to find Heather Fork, my new physician coach. 

 I had to keep my eye on the 90- day finish line as I was determined to finish on a good note with honor and integrity.   It was a challenge due to being extremely frustrated with it all.   I am thankful for those early morning walks with my wife during this time.  

December 15th, 2019 was my last day of work. I limped to the finish line. It was clear that I had left the desert, but the desert had not left me.

It took some time to sort through everything and it still does take time.  I did some traveling out of the country and went to a medical mission conference in Houston and a high school baseball alumni game in Dallas. Those early months caused a heavy shift in my identity. Lots of fear and insecurities surfaced as the dust began to settle.  My day-to-day was centered on me and my family for the first time in my life, which was an adjustment. I needed structure and began working out, eating right, journaling, reflecting on the past, and continued meditation exercises centered on restoration.  It probably took about 3 months off work to feel somewhat energized, recharged, and better able to relax enough to feel comfortable with where I was in life.   Medicine is all I have known my entire life.   I was finally free from a job that was killing me. 

My priorities needed rebalancing and my soul needed to be refreshed.

I now understand that while working, I am hyper-focused on work to such a great degree that I am often unable to relax when not working.  It makes me a great doctor; however, it steals from other parts of my life and from those that need me most, my family.  I now know that busyness and exhaustion can sabotage healing.  

I have been off work for about 4 months (including through the Coronavirus outbreak).  This time off has proven invaluable to me. It has quickened necessary healing.  It has allowed for deep reflection of the past, present, and future, and wringing out those remaining tears. I’m at peace with losing my daughter; I’m at peace with a faulty childhood; I’m almost at peace with death which waged war in my life over the last decade or so; I’m at peace with not being a doctor right now. 

What has sprung forth is a newly discovered vitality and gratitude for life that I could not appreciate while focused on patient care. I am thankful to have survived countless situations that threatened to overtake me. I am thankful for my wife who loved me through many dark years. My soul has been stretched through loss.  As a result, I am a changed person.  As of now, I do not know for certain what the future will look like.  There are so many options.  I am focused on being present each day to be a better father, husband, and friend.  Every day that I have air in my lungs is a gift.  

At the time of this post, Dr. P is still considering many career options including part-time locum tenens work. We’ll definitely check in with him in the near future and keep you posted!

A big Thank you to Dr. P for his most honest and beautifully written piece about his journey to date.

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  1. Susan on June 4, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Dr. P, your piece moves me deeply, as I’m sure it will so many others. You tell your story so beautifully, with such raw emotion, and I hope you will include writing in your future endeavors as well. Thank you for sharing your very difficult but also triumphant story. I think you will help many of us by hearing it. Wishing you, your wife and your children lots of love and happiness as you explore what’s to come.

    • Heather Fork on June 5, 2020 at 4:10 am

      Thank you, Dr. Susan, for your lovely comments. I agree whole-heartedly with you that Dr. P has a beautiful way of expressing himself. I hope he continues to write as well. Your encouragement is powerful.

  2. Marcel Cesar on June 4, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    Dr. P your story resonates deeply with me. I had to reach rock bottom in my 27 year career as an emergency physician before I quit abruptly . It has taken me almost 2 years but I am finally happy with my life.

    • Heather Fork on June 5, 2020 at 4:04 am

      Dr. Marcel Cesar, thank you for responding to Dr. P’s story. It makes a BIG difference for the writers to know that their experiences resonate with others. We can often think we are the only ones struggling with things when it’s so not true. I’m really glad to hear that you are doing so well after a tough time. Very good news!

  3. Lynette D Charity MD on June 4, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Dr. P, thank you so very much for your story. We, as physicians, do forget that we are human and suffer anger, frustration, disillusionment, and depression. We also are clever at ways to DEAL! I commend you for finding the help you needed to regain YOURSELF. Dr. Fork helped me find my true me, also. She also helped me to understand the difference between being self-ish and self-ful! Medicine WAS your calling and it almost killed you! You are more than a career and a title. I am so happy for you! To you and your family, stay safe and in the immortal words of Mr. Spock “Live long and prosper.”

    • Heather Fork on June 5, 2020 at 3:57 am

      You know how to cheer others on, Dr. Lynette Charity! Thank you so much for sharing these encouraging and compassionate words for Dr. P. I am happy that our work together was helpful for you. You have really come into your own and it’s lovely to see. We all help each other and pass it along.

  4. Heather Fork on June 5, 2020 at 4:17 am

    I want to share a comment that was sent directly to my email in response to Dr. P’s story (posted with permission):

    “That article was really heart wrenching. But for me it really validated the time I am taking right now To regroup and find, as you said, who I was before medical school.

    I remember one time I was in a store speaking with the salesperson as I was checking out. I believe it was the North face. I was telling the person how I once upon a time I was extremely outdoorsy and was rock climbing and hiking and camping all the time. The salesperson looked at me perplexed and said what happened why did you stop? I pause for a moment, reflected, and then it just popped out of my mouth… I went to medical school and it ruined my life.

    Possibly that line was a bit dramatic or not the whole truth, But the fact that I said it struck me as very sad. So once again thank you Heather. Reading your articles extremely helpful. “

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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 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
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. 

- 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

"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