Transitioning from medicine – Dr. Jennifer Spector's story


Physicians often ask me, “How long does it take to transition to a nonclinical career?”  My answer is always, it depends. From my experience, the time ranges from 3 months to 2 – 3 years, with an average of 12 – 18 months.

Today I’m honored to introduce Dr. Jennifer Spector, a podiatrist, and surgeon whose recent transition took about a year and landed her doing something very interesting!

Please read on to “hear” her transition story in her own words.

“Almost exactly one year ago, I hit the proverbial wall. I had been toying with the idea of transitioning to a non-clinical career, but it was my five-to-ten year plan.

Originally, the changes in medicine over the past decade or so, along with increasing deterioration in the doctor-patient relationship and constant pressure to do more with less support made me realize that I had too many years left in my working life to continue to endure it all.

Due to family and professional obligations, I planned on recertifying my boards one more time and fulfilling some leadership plans.

Instead, last year, I sat in my car, snow falling outside, waiting for an emergency add-on surgical case to be fit in. As opposed to being invigorated by the challenge and honored by the opportunity to help this person, my anxiety was through the roof, even though I had performed similar procedures for over a decade. When it came time to scrub in, the anxiety disappeared, as the patient became my primary focus. In hindsight, it was a privilege to be there for that patient and provide limb-saving care. But I realized something in that car that night:

I was ready to move on.

I won’t get into a deep discussion on physician burnout at this time. But my journey over the past year has been life-changing.

As recently as six months ago, I was still in the OR.

Today, I am a full-time editor for a medical publication in my specialty. Over the past five years or so of my clinical career, I had the opportunity to develop skills in writing, editing, leadership, speaking and even meeting planning. Back in that snowfall at the hospital, I didn’t know what my next step would look like, but I believed in my soul that I had the skills to take it.

Being a Type A person, not unlike most physicians, I attacked this project head-on. I quietly began updating my CV (not realizing yet that a CV wasn’t the most appropriate document in this new world), shoring up my LinkedIn contacts and trolling job boards online to see what came up in my searches.

A few months later I pulled the trigger and gave my 90 days notice to my practice owner. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I didn’t have another job lined up yet. I hadn’t even been granted one interview. I was terrified.

But at the same time, I believed deep down that this was the right choice. I worked with Heather, who did a fantastic job of helping me sort through the myriad of options to really hone in on where I belonged. With her help, I turned that CV into a resume optimized my network, and gained vital knowledge in the non-clinical job search process. My husband kept telling me that my perfect job was out there, it just wasn’t ready for me yet. Being the more pragmatic of the two of us, I rolled my eyes. But, he was right.

Finally, in the early summer, I started getting bites from companies where my background and skills were uniquely applicable.

My search had narrowed down to medical writing/editing and test optimization/development.

I applied for an editorial position at a company where I knew one of their publications was in my specialty but felt like my skills could fit in multiple areas. I did a silent happy dance when I found out during my initial phone interview that the position in question was indeed within my specialty.

I answered the question over and over again through the process as to “Why did you leave practice?” Initially difficult to answer in a way that felt authentic, I eventually found my stride in an answer I was comfortable with.

I was offered the job and began the next stage of my career two months after leaving clinical practice. I can honestly say that I am living in a completely different world, professionally, but I am learning so much and am so appreciative of this opportunity. My company actually sends surveys out via e-mail every week, anonymously assessing employee engagement and satisfaction, instead of me being assessed by a patient survey!

That was particularly ironic to me. Our feedback is valued, I have the option to work from home once a week, and resources exist for me to seek professional guidance and support in my workplace, while also being given the respect and space to work independently.

 My training and experience are valued.

Each day in this new position is different. I might be editing an article from a fellow physician-author or tweaking the layout of a piece ready for publication. I manage our social media presence and post almost daily on our website. I create e-newsletters with content geared towards docs in my field and correspond daily with current and potential authors. I’ve also been fortunate to write a few pieces, including an upcoming feature on physician burnout.

My clinical background is invaluable to this job, but I have to have a thirst to learn every day. It is a very detailed job, but in a completely different way that medicine was. The exact styling of the word postoperative (post-operative?) would not have been on my radar in a SOAP note. But I am very grateful for colleagues and supervisors who are patiently supportive when I ask a “rookie” question and I hope I am the same to them when they have a clinical question.

I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about patients. I don’t live in a constant state of doom and gloom that the other shoe is going to drop. Imposter syndrome is a much less frequent visitor.

My husband commented that I began sleeping better within the first two weeks. I actually feel like I have the mental and physical time and space for some attempt at self-care. I do miss the connection with patients and the feeling of focus in the OR. I sincerely hope I made a difference during my clinical career. But I am completely certain I made the right choice. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited to go to work. I know my personality well enough to understand that the anxiety is going to still surface, and it does.

For those looking to walk a similar path, I recommend you have a few writing samples available for potential employers. For me, it didn’t have to be a peer-reviewed article, per se, although I’m lucky enough to have one of those under my belt. It can be a blog for your practice or a newsletter entry for an organization in which you are a member. Don’t underestimate the skills you have gained through your clinical years. Look at projects you have taken on, or organizations you are passionate about. How can those translate into the non-clinical world?

It deeply saddens me that medicine is losing good practitioners due to burnout, lack of support, or similar issues. I mourn that I felt I needed to “break up” with my lifelong dream. I’m still going to recertify my boards, just under an “admin” status. I’m almost finished with the term on my leadership commitment. It is an honor to still serve my profession and specialty in a meaningful way. Light can and does exist at the end of the tunnel for those of us seeking non-clinical alternatives, I promise.”

 A big “Thank you” to Dr. Jennifer Spector for being willing to share her story here! 

If you missed my interview with Dr. Xiomara Santos about her transition from OB/Gyn to freelance medical writer, you can read it here. 


Latest Posts

Find what you're looking for:

Heather Fork


  1. Navpreet Sahsi on December 31, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Amazing Post! Just Visited. I found it very interesting. Thanks, Great work

Leave a Comment


"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