How to Finish Charting and Get Home on Time as a Physician with Mary Leung MD

by Jen Barna MD | Podcast

“Now that I think about it, I was actually slowly getting really burnt out because I had no life. I didn’t really get to spend time with my family. My kids were young, so sometimes I would just go home after 7:00 with work not completed, just to see my kids and have some bedtime stories before tucking them into bed and then to do more work.” -Mary Leung MD

In this episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, we hear first hand how our guest, Coach Mary Leung MD, went from working overtime to finishing her charting and getting home on time, resetting her work-life balance as a physician.

Join us as Coach Mary Leung MD offers her expert insights on strategic steps you can take to fast-track your journey toward having more personal time for what truly matters to you. Tune in to hear steps you can take, starting today, to finish your charting and get home on time, adding balance in your life by transforming how you live and work.

Coach Leung MD shares her personal journey of navigating the complexities of medical practice while pursuing personal fulfillment and happiness as a physician mom outside of hospital walls.

Mary Leung is a full time hematology and medical oncology physician practicing in New York, board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hematology, and she’s also a certified life coach, passionate about serving physicians who are stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out.

Dr Mary was working and charting after hours, many nights and weekends until life coaching transformed her life. She’s now going home at least two and a half hours earlier than before, with all her clinical work completed for the day.

From the depths of her own experience, Dr Mary founded shining with gratitude MD. Her passion and mission is to guide other physicians through their unique situations so they can feel better, have more time outside of their clinical work, regain control, and have more clarity. Her hope is for physicians to rediscover joy in life and in medicine.

You can contact Dr Leung at –

Email: [email protected]




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Below is a transcript for this episode.

Mary Leung MD: Now that I think about it, I was actually slowly getting really burnt out because I had no life. I didn’t really get to spend time with my family. My kids were young, so sometimes I would just go home after 07:00 with work not completed, just to see my kids and have some bedtime stories before tucking them into bed and then to do more work.

Dr Jen Barna: Today, I’m so excited to bring to you our guest, doctor Mary Lung. She’s a full time hematology and medical oncology physician practicing in New York, board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hematology, and she’s also a certified life coach, passionate about serving physicians who are stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out, doctor Mary was working and charting after hours, many nights and weekends until life coaching transformed her life. She’s now going home at least two and a half hours earlier than before, with all her clinical work completed for the day. From the depths of her own experience, Doctor Mary founded shining with gratitude, Md. Her passion and mission is to guide other physicians through their unique situations so they can feel better, have more time outside of their clinical work, regain control, and have more clarity. Her hope is for physicians to rediscover joy in life and in medicine. Doctor Mary Long, welcome to Dockworking the whole physician podcast.

Mary Leung MD: Thank you for having me today.

Dr Jen Barna: I’m so excited that you’re here because I’m interested in your story. I think so many of us have experienced a similar story as physicians. I think when we’re going through that, it can feel very isolating, and I really appreciate that you’re willing to share your story and be vulnerable and talk with us about it, because I think so many of us are going through similar struggles. And I’m also excited to hear about the ways that you’re helping people to overcome this and to accelerate their progress toward what matters most to them as individuals. So please tell me a little bit about your background and what got you to this place. What did you experience?

Mary Leung MD: Yeah, and thank you so much for having me, and it’s an honor, and I’m happy to share everything that I know and have experienced. So a little bit about my background was, I think, like many physicians, you know, once we decided to become a physician, it was a pretty straightforward path because we knew that we had to satisfy certain school requirements, going through college, medical school, residency training, sometimes fellowship, and then you become the attending. So one point I thought, oh, you know, that was it? And I just had to go to the next point. And attending physician was kind of the end point, I thought, and I would be, quote unquote, at the top of the world. And when I became an attending about 13 years ago, I thought, wow, that was it. I did it. And then at the same time, I didn’t really feel any different from being a fellow. Just the other day and I was starting off joining a private practice, and my practice started to grow. I was replacing another physician, and then three months later, an older physician retired. So I was getting more and more volume. And before I knew it, I was seeing about 25 to 30 patients a day doing hematology and oncology. At that time, I was still using paper charts. And I think one good thing about paper charts was actually people used to write less. Of course, the challenge was that the handwriting could be difficult to decipher. So then slowly I built up that I was actually charting after hours because I wanted to keep the patients as on time as possible according to their appointment schedule. And before I knew it, I was going home past 07:00, even though my last patient was supposed to be done by around four, I was making phone calls. I was really trying to write the charts. And the situation actually got worse when we changed to electronic medical records. And at that time, I thought that it was kind of a normal thing. I saw my partners, they were also charting pretty late. Certain ones didn’t go as late as I did, but then I also saw their notes was not as comprehensive as I wanted my standard to be. So, you know, now that I think about it, I was actually slowly getting really burned out because I had no life. I didn’t really get to spend time with my family. My kids were young, so sometimes I would just go home after 07:00 with work not completed, just to see my kids and have some bedtime stories before tuck them into bed, and then to do more work after hours. So then I think day in and day out for years that I just became, you know, not really enjoying what I did because, you know, I joined medicine, really want to help people and want to develop that special connection with my patients, not just to heal their diagnosis, but really to have that special human bond. And so I didn’t really enjoy doing that anymore because I didn’t have the energy, mentally or physically to do it. So then just fast forward to the pandemic. I know no one wanted the pandemic, but I think there’s always something good coming out of something bad. And what came out of it was that for a while I was just seeing a third of the patient mode and I had a taste of going home on time or even earlier than usual. So I thought, what if I could do this all the time, even when I was back up to the full patient mode? And just right at that time, I think there was just a godsend thing that I was introduced to life coaching, and because I was not as busy, I had time to explore. So I just made the leap of faith that I thought anything would be better than where I was emotionally. And if they could help me somehow go home earlier, why not? You know, I could just give it a try. So I did. I joined women physicians coaching program and I was working with a coach, and with her help, with her guidance, in about three months I was going home by 5530 with all my charts done. And I think looking back right now, I’ve been doing this, you know, for about two years consistently going home by around five. And looking back, I just couldn’t believe I was, you know, living so long on the other side. And now I have a life. I have time to spend with my family. I even have time to, you know, coach other physicians to do the same, you know, to manage the time, to manage their mind and really to have a chance to enjoy the medicine that, you know, what they went in for and enjoy life outside of medicine.

Dr Jen Barna: Well, I love what you’re saying, and of course, I talk with people all the time who are staying late, trying to complete their charting. And one thing that I hear people say is that, you know, I’ve always been good at time management. I got through medical school. You know, I had to be good at time management in order to get into medical school and through residency. So, you know, I don’t think I can change this. I think I’ve already optimized it. You know, I don’t really see how coaching could make that much of a difference. So for those people that are sort of in that mindset, they would love for coaching to work for them, but they also are a little bit hesitant to take the leap. First of all, what allowed you to make that leap? And second, what would you say is the difference between the time management that we can figure out on our own and how a coach can actually really accelerate your progress and project you forward in a way that is very difficult if not impossible to do on your own? What’s the secret?

Mary Leung MD: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say it’s a secret, but of course, I’m happy to share my own experience. I think for me, it was out of desperation. I just thought anything, whatever I did, anything different from what I did would be better. And so there was that hope that something would be better and the belief that something will be better. I just didn’t know what it was. So I was willing to be open minded and to be curious enough to try something, and that worked for me. And so I think for physicians who are like, I’ve always been working this way, I’ve been efficient, and I just can’t find any way to do it. I’ll say, okay, if you can’t find it yourself, why not be a little bit curious and open minded to have someone help you, and especially for someone who has gone through this to help you, because, yes, there’s no one size fit all, but even in coaching, you know, it’s tailor made for you to see what you need. And I think one of the biggest thing is really to understand or to know exactly what you want for me is why do I want to go home on time? Is because, yes, I want to be efficient, but the ultimate goal for me is to, because I want life outside of medicine and to spend it with my family. So that is my backbone of why I want to do what I want to do. So I think for physicians, it is important to understand what they want to do, why they want to finish the clinic day on time. So the other thing is to really believe that they can do it, even though in the beginning, I didn’t think that it was possible, but I was like, okay, there’s this little slight chance that if I try it, I could do it. If I didn’t try it, I know for sure that I couldn’t do it. So I think it’s just that belief that you can do it, and the next thing is really to commit to it, to commit to trying new things, to trying different methods, and just really carry that more positive energy or attitude that, hey, it is possible to do it, as opposed to saying that, you know what? I haven’t been able to do it for years. What makes you think that I can do it now? But just focusing on the possible and what kind of energy they’re using to fuel you, you know, are you using the frustration, the stress, the anger, or are you using, you know, like, that you’re being motivated, that you’re focused, that, you know, or the hope, the content, you know, that type of energy? I think the result will be very different. And the last thing is actually just do it. I think just, of course, having the guidance helps because that opens you up to different possibilities that you probably haven’t thought of. And sometimes it is that, you know, maybe it’s also within you that you just need someone to point it out, to say, all right, that’s it. And I have it all along. And I believe that every physician has the potential to finish their clinic day on time, and we just need to sometimes find different methods to do it. Sometimes we just need a coach to help you or a mentor to point out the right direction.

Dr Jen Barna: Absolutely. And you bring up an interesting point in your description there because I started out with the question saying that what many people say to me is that, you know, I think I’ve already optimized this, but it’s just not enough, you know? And so in a way, they’re self confident, but in a way, they’re also having some self doubt because they don’t really know how to go forward. And I think that can be sort of a circular pattern that’s hard to break free of, that sort of combination, if you will, of self doubt and confidence. And so as a coach, I wonder if you can comment about that and how you see that affecting physicians.

Mary Leung MD: Yes. So self doubt, I think many of us equate that to, you know, we’re doubting our ability to do things, and sometimes it can even stop us from moving forward or making a decision because we’re afraid that we would do something wrong or not doing something good enough. And, yes, that sometimes can be paralyzing you. But I think of self doubt, the opposite is of self confidence, and it’s not a black and white thing. I think self doubt and self confidence is like a spectrum, or my coach actually described me, to me as a pendulum. It’s kind of like you kind of swing at the two extremes at all the time. And so I think you were able to find the right position at where you have enough self confidence to go forward, but also a little sprinkle of self doubt to question that, hey, is this the best way to do, or can I learn a better way to do things? Even better. But you can still move forward. So I think that’s kind of the happy medium that we can work with self doubt and self confidence, because I think as long as we live, we always have self doubt and we always have self confidence. So we have to realize where we’re at. Is the self doubt really stopping us from moving forward, or is it helping us because, you know, we want to do things better, but we have also the self confidence to really carry out and execute the things that we want to do.

Dr Jen Barna: Beautifully said. Do you have any tips for someone who might be listening, who could walk away from this conversation with something that they could implement right away in terms of helping themselves to move in the direction of finishing charting on time?

Mary Leung MD: Yeah. So I think one of the most important thing is how you start your day. So when you wake up in the morning, I’ll share what I do, or what I’ve been doing since coaching is I wake up in the morning being thankful, and I’m grateful for just something. It can be anything. It can be that I’m grateful for a beautiful day, blue sky, or I’m grateful to be alive, or I’m grateful that I don’t need the alarm to wake me up, you know, something like that. And when you’re grateful, it just carries out more positive energy to move you on. And when I get to my clinic, I’m mainly doing outpatient care that I just, you know, decided that it’s going to be a good day. You know, I just say that today is going to be a good day. No matter what. I expect surprises to happen, and when they happen, I was like, oh, that’s a surprise, and I’ll just see how I can deal with it. I always share the example, which is not too long ago, that I was just in the clinic seeing patients, 02:00 in the afternoon. All of a sudden there was a blackout. It was because the transformer exploded, and so a few blocks was all blacked out, and we were like, okay, what do we do with all the patients? And we couldn’t even get the blood drawn to spin because we had no power and no electronic medical records. So we were just trying to figure out, okay, for patients who need a chemo, we’ll just send them out to have blood draw. We’re just kind of delegating things rather than arguing why that happened. We use more energy to figure out the solution. So I think the important thing is really to realize what we can control and what we cannot control. And what we cannot control is we’ll just deal with it as they come. And I think with that mindset, it’s just easier to go through the day. And the other important thing, I think, more practical thing to do is really to do your best to see the patient and do the chart right away, or even start writing the chart before seeing the patient, and write some while you’re talking to the patient, and then finish it up, because if you’re just spending a few more minutes or even five, six more minutes to finish your chart before seeing the next patient. You are done with that patient, and when you go to the other patient room, you are focused. You are just putting your concentration on that particular patient as opposed to thinking back, like, three patients before that, oh, I forgot to write something, or, oh, I had to order this. And so I think, you know, with me practicing doing that consistently is I actually find that I spend less time charting because at the end of the day, my old belief was that, oh, yeah, you know what? I’m already 1520 minutes late. Let me call in the next patient so that they’re not waiting for so long. But then I suffer at the end of the day because came 435 o’clock when I finally finished seeing the patients, I had all these charts to write. Like, sometimes it could be ten, sometimes it could even be more charts. After seeing 25, 27 patients and I was getting tired, my brain started to shut down and I started to mix things up. I was like, oh, did I miss something? And it would take me at least two to three times more time to write the same chart. So, you know, it’s better off to have the next patient wait a few minutes longer. Then you just spend the whole day or hours later to write a chart. And it may not be as good as if you write it then and there. The other one thing I want to share is also to really be, I guess, be mindful of distractions. You know, there are going to be nurses calling you for things or their phone calls. So if you can set up in your office in a way that, oh, you know, really don’t bother me or don’t disturb me in the middle of patient encounters unless it’s an emergency, and you tell them exactly, you know, what the situation is, that they can disrupt you. I think that will minimize the distractions when you’re in the hospital, like, say, being a hospitalist or inpatient care, you know, when nurses call you or they page you, see if you can just finish quickly what you’re doing before calling them back. Because we cannot really multitask. In reality, we’re just task switching very quickly. So every time you switch a task, it takes you that much time to recover and concentrate on the next thing. And I think the last thing I’ll share is to actually schedule some breaks because we need to refuel. And I guess as outpatient, probably midday, the lunchtime is a good time to take a little break because you need to refuel physically. You need to make sure that you’re hydrated, you need a bathroom break, you know, and just walk around a little bit because, you know, these days, I know for the electronic medical records, we’re mostly sitting down in front of the computer. Your eyes even need to break. So I think sometimes with just a little break, even a few minutes when you go back to it in the afternoon, you’re just that much more refreshed and be able to focus and just remind yourself throughout the day the goal, because, you know, you want to go home on time for whatever reason it is, and just really be hopeful and generate the kind of positive energy that you want to generate. And just really, it sounds pretty simple. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but it is definitely possible because I’m a living and breathing example and I’m just an ordinary person, a physician, and it didn’t happen overnight, but it’s definitely doable.

Dr Jen Barna: I really love the examples that you’re giving there because they are directly applicable. And for all of the steps you’ve outlined, I can see in my practice how much putting those steps to use has helped me as well. Like, for example, when I’m getting called, I’m a radiologist, so when I’m getting called on patients and I’m making diagnostic decisions and I have multiple calls coming in, multiple patients kind of scheduled from different places at the same time, I used to listen, you know, look at the case, make a decision and give a verbal decision and then save it to dictate later because I had my phone was ringing off the hook and I would go to the next case and the next case and the next case and keep notes. But what I found is, of course, at the end of the day, when you open up a case that you started earlier, you have to basically start from the beginning. So you’re investing much more time per case because you have to look at everything all over again. You have to be sure that, you know, your mind is fresh on every single thing that’s happened, whereas in real time, you’re looking at that, you’re making a decision. You don’t have to later revisit how you got to that decision before you dictate. So it saves so much time to just say, hold on just a minute, I’m going to finish this case that I’m on and I’ll get right to you. And it only, you know, is a couple of minutes wait for whoever’s wanting to talk to you next while you finish what you’re doing. And I can imagine if you’re in the clinic and you’re seeing patients, it must be the same pressure. You know, that the rooms are full, people are waiting, but you really have to just take that time for the sake of the patient and for the sake of yourself, and just finish that patient’s notes, everything about your plan before you go on to the next patient. And it does sound easier than it is to do, but once you change the way you operate and everyone around you gets used to it, then it actually works really well. And I love also your advice about taking breaks, which I think is something that is. It’s easy to just glance down at your phone and there was, you know, a five minute break that you could have taken where you could have walked outside for five minutes, but instead you checked your emails or you looked at the news or something like that. It’s so easy to slip into that. But if you’re aware of it, you can intentionally make a plan that you’re going to aim for a five minute break at a specific point that you know that’s possible. And then five minutes, no one will complain that you’re away.

Mary Leung MD: Exactly.

Dr Jen Barna: Outside, you can take the long way around the building, outside to the cafeteria or wherever you’re getting lunch or whatever the case may be. But I think you, you know, you’re really hitting some important points, which sounds simple, but I think having an accountability partner to walk you through, really making those into new habits, can be a huge game changer. I have one other question for you, which I’m just curious. Mom to mom or physician mom to physician mom, how has your education to become a life coach and the transformation that you personally experienced, how has that influenced the way you parent?

Mary Leung MD: Yeah, well, first of all, I’m happier. So I think just being happier and more grateful in general, that is kind of some unspoken language that my family can experience. So I think they can experience that. I am just, in general, a more positive person, and it’s just easier to talk to. And for me, it’s. I think my kids are, you know, they don’t listen to me all the time, which is normal, but I think that we’re able to have more in depth conversations. And I also ask them at night what went well. And that’s one of the things that my coach asked me on a regular basis, like what went well? So I have my kids tell me, okay, what went well? And kind of just end the night or the day with a nice note to remember, to really celebrate little things, because why not? Yeah, things have happened already. And. And I think the more we celebrate, the more we generate a more pleasant emotion. And since we all have to experience the pleasant and unpleasant emotions, why not do something to make our pleasant ones have more airtime? And I think that feels better. So I think parenting part is really great. I think some of my friends, they’re not super happy or they feel like, oh, you know, when the kids are off or, you know, in the summer vacation time, they kind of say that, oh, you know, I have to deal with them all day long. To me, it’s a privilege. I feel like, you know, like even being able to drive them to their swimming lessons or being able to participate certain, you know, school things, to me, it’s great. And even, I know it sounds funny, like, even being able to do dishes, you know, for me, it’s kind of a great thing because I feel like, oh, you know, I’m working all these hours and of course, now, you know, I’m able to match the time so much better. So I actually have the privilege to do housework. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it’s just like, you know, I think to me, that’s also part of parenting, to show them that, hey, you know, you can do this, and I show them how to do laundry. And I also spend time with my daughter. Like, we would cook or bake, you know, and I actually teach her how to make egg tarts, which is, you know, one of the biggest Hong Kong dessert to do. So it’s a lot of steps, but she’s able to do it. So we’re able to just share that special bond. And I think love is expressed in different ways. And I think to me, to be able to do these kind of day to day little things, I would just cherish that forever in my life.

Dr Jen Barna: Yes. That is so beautifully said. I really love that idea of asking yourself and people that you love, especially your kids, if you have kids, what went well today? What a wonderful point of reflection at the end of the day and way to ask for a conversation with a child when if you just say, how was your day? You likely get a fine, you know, a one word answer. That’s such a wonderful question and a way to help someone to reflect on the positive points from the day. Because as you mentioned, there are thousands of thoughts that go through our mind and there are thousands of stimuli that we can choose to notice or not notice at any given point. And so choosing to notice the positive ones can have a huge impact on your life as well. Maybe we could even have you share your recipe with us and we’ll include it in the show notes.

Mary Leung MD: Okay, I don’t have a set one, but yes, I’m happy to share anything.

Dr Jen Barna: Awesome. Well, doctor Mary Long, thank you so much for coming and sharing so much wisdom with us on today’s episode of dockworking the whole physician podcast. Please let us know how people can reach you if they want to reach out and work with you as a coach or if they have additional questions for you.

Mary Leung MD: Yes. So you can email me at [email protected] and you can also visit my website at I publish a blog post twice a week on the same website, forward slash blog. You can also find me on Facebook, marylung and linkedin at marylungmd.

Dr Jen Barna: Terrific. Thank you again for sharing your wisdom and I look forward to future conversations with you.

Mary Leung MD: Yes, thank you so much for having.

Dr Jen Barna: Me today and thank you for joining us listening to this conversation and we hope that you will join us for future conversations on the doc working whole physician podcast.

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO of DocWorking, and host of top ranked DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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