How a Former Dermatologist Helps Physicians to Create More Fulfilling Careers


Although many of Heather’s clients enjoy taking care of patients, she has observed that recent changes in the practice of medicine are leading to increased burnout rates among physicians.

Dr. Heather Fork thought she was on the path to becoming a happy, fulfilled dermatologist.

She bought a dermatology practice right out of residency and quickly became immersed in the day-to-day operations of learning how to run a business and taking care of patients.

It was busy and stressful, and Heather didn’t really stop to ask herself if she truly enjoyed the work.

Finally, after 4.5 years of running the practice, Heather asked herself if she was happy.

“The answer was a surprising ‘no, not really.’ Heather said.

Heather realized that although she really liked and enjoyed her patients and helping them, it was frustrating seeing patients every 10 to 15 minutes and having to be talking all day long.

“Residency had been a lot different. I had the company of my peers and it was a very dynamic training environment,” she said. “Private practice can be pretty isolating, even though you are surrounded by people all day long. I also didn’t realize how being fairly introverted would weigh in on seeing patients all day long.”

Even though she wasn’t happy, Heather decided that she was going to see what she could do to improve her job satisfaction before she made any dramatic life changes.

She spent the next 4.5 years trying to do everything in her power to become happier at work. She cut back her patient schedule, took more time with patients, added on services to diversify her practice and renovated a new office space. While overall things did improve, she still felt that this was not where she was meant to be and there was a different way she was meant to be helping people. She wasn’t sure what that was going to be, but she decided to sell her dermatology practice nine years after she purchased it.

Finding a New Path

When Heather sold her practice, she intentionally didn’t have a plan. She knew she needed some time off to sort things out, otherwise, she thought she might choose the wrong path just to have a job. During this transition period, she took time for reflection.

“I looked to my past for clues on what I liked to do that no one was paying me for. When I was in practice, I had been studying personality type and going to workshops to learn various programs for making changes. I would then get anyone who was willing, such as my aesthetician or a friend to try out these programs. It was in a way doing coaching, but I never called it that. A lightbulb went off and it was so obvious to me that what I really wanted to do what help others make changes in their lives that were more than skin deep."

While she was attending the Coaches Training Institute, she connected with a few physician clients who were very unhappy. Because she was so isolated as a dermatologist, she didn’t realize that there were other doctors out there who were struggling so with various issues.

In 2009, Heather started Doctor’s Crossing and began providing coaching services to physicians on a full-time basis.

Tough to Change

Heather said that there are a significant number of physicians who follow the path through medical school and residency and end up staying on the conveyor belt even though being a clinician isn’t a good fit for them.

One reason that physicians feel trapped in their careers, Heather said, is debt. Many physicians are $200,000 or more in debt and believe that a career change would not allow them to make payments on their loans.

Heather said that unhappy physicians often don’t seek new or different careers because they don’t want to “waste” their training, worry about what others might think, feel guilty or fear that they are betraying the profession.

Some physicians even buy into the misconception that they don’t have any transferable skills, Heather said. However, the reality is that doctors can do anything that anyone who has been to college can do, she said.

Getting Help

Many of Heather's clients seek her help because they reach a pain point in their careers. Because many doctors have a very high threshold for pain and can tolerate much more than other people, Heather said many of her clients were unhappy for a long time before they reached out to her. Some of her clients experience a catalyst, which she believes can shift people to do or think about things differently and give them the courage they need to explore and find a better way.

Although Heather said that there is a different spectrum of problems for each of her clients, they all come to her because something in their life or career is not working.

Heather said her first step is to help her clients figure out their own truth. Some clients find that the root of their problem is related to a work issue, such as being overly compulsive and taking too long with charting. Others have known that practicing medicine was not a good fit for them since medical school.

“When they can own their truth, they can do something about it,” Heather said. “My job is helping them find their own answers and not what others say they should be doing.”

Burnout Blues

Although many of Heather’s clients enjoy taking care of patients, she has observed that recent changes in the practice of medicine are leading to increased burnout rates among physicians.

Heather said that medicine has always been a risky and demanding profession, but doctors used to have more control over their practices. Now, with corporate businesses taking over many aspects of the practice of medicine and management of health care, doctors have far less control.

“When you still have those risks and responsibilities but you have less control, that is a recipe for burnout,” Heather said.

After reviewing recent literature on physician burnout, Heather said that there is an average rate of physician burnout of 54%. According to a recent Medscape survey, the top 4 specialties for burnout are Emergency Medicine, OB/GYN, Family Medicine and Internal Medicine. Burnout rates have increased for dermatologists as well, from 35% in 2013 to around 45% in 2017. Heather also noted that there has been a shift in the literature about physician burnout; studies that used to focus on determining whether burnout existed and finding the burnout rate now focus on how doctor burnout can be prevented or treated.

Up until recently, Heather said that advice for burnt out physicians was to get a hobby, take a vacation, or do some yoga or mindfulness practice. New recommendations are thankfully focusing on not just the physician, but what institutions can do to address the widespread problem of burnout, she said.

Heather believes that although the health care industry is slowly starting to see some changes, it is not enough for individual institutions to provide solutions to combat physician burnout. She said that a systemwide, integrated solution that causes institutions some pain if they don’t address a pandemic problem is required.

Heather said she would like to see physicians rank and rate their institutions on a Yelp-like system. However, she said that she believes new physicians who are more familiar with things such as electronic medical records may suffer from lower rates of burnout than older physicians who were required to make major changes in their practices.

As awareness of doctor burnout increases, Heather said she believes the health care community will begin to take more proactive measures to prevent it.

Her advice to combat doctor burnout: “Do something sooner rather than later. Try to put aside worries about what other people will think, wasting training or being capable of transitioning. Let go of the questions and give yourself space to explore your options and get more information.”

Finding Happiness

Because physicians tend to be analytical, Heather said that they often like to see the end result before they start a new venture.

“Having to know how something is going to work out really gets in the way,” she said.

In fact, she said that one of her favorite books that deal with this issue is called The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters.

When asked if there is anything she would change about her career path, Heather said that she is fortunate to have been able to practice dermatology and run her own business and wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s a joy and I feel like it’s what I’m meant to do,” Heather said. “I like to help others figure out what their true path is.”

Ultimately, Heather has found her own happiness while helping her clients find theirs.

“To me, there’s nothing better than someone saying how happy they are and getting to be themselves,” she said.

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