SEAK Non-Clinical Careers Conference



Last month I was in Chicago at the SEAK Non-Clinical Careers Conference. This is one of my favorite conferences and I love volunteering there as a mentor every year. I sat in a humongous room in the Crown Plaza Hotel at a tiny table where I met with a different physician attendee every 15 minutes for 2 days.

In mini-mentoring sessions that felt like a cross between the old game show, “Beat the Clock “ and a live version of, “What Color is My Parachute?” I talked with doctors about their particular career situations.

There were close to 400 physicians at the conference, some coming from as far away as Saudia Arabia and the Caymen Islands. There were diverse specialists, from pathologists to surgeons, and many primary care physicians. I met with a medical student, a resident, a septuagenarian, and many docs in their 30’s – 50’s.

Does everyone want to leave medicine? No, not at all. Many still like caring for patients, but need something to change. At issue are the common problems affecting doctors nationwide – burnout, lack of control, frustration with the EMR, long hours, little time for family or self, and feeling stagnant. Then there are the positive drivers – the desire to make a difference in a bigger way, entrepreneurial ideas, an interest in focusing on wellness, not illness, and just plain curiosity.

When they weren’t meeting with mentors or recruiters, the attendees listened to speakers who had transitioned into areas such as:

  • Pharma and medical devices
  • Consulting
  • Informatics
  • Insurance (life, disability, and health)
  • Non-profit sector
  • Government
  • Administration
  • Entrepreneurial endeavors
  • Medical writing
  • Financial planning

Whenever I’m at SEAK and meeting with doctors, there are always some tears shed, some giddy laughter, and a lot of getting to the heart of the matter. With such a short time to talk (15 min), I want to know what is really important to this individual sitting in front of me, and start sketching out a path of possibility.

I always end up with these thoughts every year after this conference:

Doctors are pretty amazing people. They are incredibly hard working, persistent, responsible and care deeply about making a difference in the world. It saddens me to see so many feeling trapped. But I also have faith in their ability to find what is right for them. This is truly a challenging time for healthcare, and challenging times bring out innovation and can be a catalyst for positive change.

In the “good old days,” few doctors knew about non-clinical careers and no one talked about having a portfolio career. Perhaps a silver lining to these troubled times is that doctors are gaining a broader perspective on career possibilities and can plan, even from medical school, for a more diverse and sustainable professional path. Fulltime clinical practice until retirement has been the norm, where the doctor “dies with his boots on.” However, just as stock portfolios benefit from diversity, so too can a doctor’s career be strengthened by combining patient care with non-clinical pursuits, or having different career stages that allow for continued growth, learning and engagement.

Since I first attended SEAK in 2010, the number of attendees has grown over 40%. The popularity of this conference is evidence that the traditional practice of medicine is not satisfying to many physicians. Let us not judge doctors for looking into options, but try to understand what is at the root of the searching and look for win-win solutions.

Disclaimer: I have no financial association with SEAK.

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  1. Dr Parul Salunke on November 5, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Dear Ms Fork,

    It was wonderful reading about the availability of non-clinical careers for doctors who feel trapped in their current role. Let me explain my situation…I am a clinical microbiologist, working as a consultant at a private lab. I am unhappy with my current role because I have a lot of free time which I am unable to utilize..I don’t get to interact with other physicians much, so there is limited growth..Attending a conference means missing three days of work (and pay). And, above all, I am not being paid much.

    The positives…I am responsible for the day-to-day fuctioning of the “Microbiology dept.” of the lab. I take the final technical decisions. This requires that I read continually so that I am academically abreast.

    But again, I feel I should be better paid and get more exposure through interaction with other microbiologists and clinicians.

    I also like documenting rare/important findings in medical journals. I write well and enjoy writing. I have a sound knowledge of most medical specialities. I don’t want to transition into being a medical writer, but…

    What have you for me?

    Regards and Thanks,
    Dr Parul Salunke.

    • Heather Fork on November 5, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Thank you very much for reading and your positive remarks. I appreciate the challenges you are experiencing in your current position as a consultant in a private lab. I have sent you an email to further discuss.

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Tim O

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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!

- 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.

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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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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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