Dr. Michael Levi, DPM
Interviewed by: Salem Lebada
Michael J. Levi has been practicing in Santa Monica for 30 years. He is on staff at St. John’s Hospital, where he is chief of the Podiatric Surgical Section. He is the team podiatrist for the Los Angeles Clippers, the UCLA Men’s Tennis Team, and the Los Angeles Ballet Company. He is also a guest lecturer for the Health and Human Sciences Department at Loyola Marymount University and team podiatrist for the past 8 years.
Dr. Levi served as the President for the California Board of Podiatric Medicine from 2008-2009. He has volunteered for over 30 years at the Venice Family Clinic, which offers low-income families medical care. He was honored for his contributions in 2000 and received California Humanitarian Award from California Podiatric Medical Association.
Dr. Levi is married and has two children and three Boxer dogs. He dedicates his free time to a number of charitable non-profit organizations, including Take Me Home Dog Rescue and Chai Lifeline. His other interests include recreational basketball, triathlons, and art.
Q1: What podiatry school did you graduate from and when?
A: Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine in 1989
Q2: Where did you attend your residency?
A: VA Greater Los Angeles
Q3: Did you go into a fellowship after your residency?
A: No, there were no fellowships back then.
Q4: What additional training (if any), do you recommend or need to specialize in this area?
A: I think you need to get involved with as many high school programs as you can. You need to donate your time. You need to become a member of American Colleges Podiatric Sports Medicine – that’s really important. You need to surround yourself around athletes and go to events where you can actually be a volunteer podiatrist. Read a lot. I think that’s the best way, coming out of school, to generate a sports medicine practice.
Q5: What made you choose sports medicine?
A: I have always had an interest in sports and was a long-distance runner myself. I grew up in West LA and was a UCLA basketball and football fan. When I went to UC Santa Barbara for college, I got injured and was treated by the school’s podiatrist. I became friends with the school podiatrist, and became acquainted with the field. I became acquainted with a very famous sports medicine podiatrist named Steven Subotnick. He enlightened me on sports medicine in the field of podiatry.
Q6: What about your specialty is unique from other podiatry subspecialties?
A: Sports medicine is unique in that you’re dealing with a variety of athletes and a variety of ages; from ballet dancers to track and field runners to basketball players to the 80-year-old man who wants to run 2 miles per day. That, in itself, makes it unique and interesting. But sports medicine patients, especially runners, are very challenging. There’s a real psychological aspect to really having a good sports medicine practice and it takes a while to learn that curve because if they’re really athletic, they’re a little bit obsessive.
You can’t just say “stop this,” and when you have to say “stop this,” you should find an alternative exercise for the athlete. That’s where you, as a doctor, need to be very compassionate. When you are a college athlete and your season is very short, it can get dicey when you have to choose which events you’re going to participate in. Sometimes you have to lose half of a season in order to participate at the very end. There’s a lot of pressure when one has a college scholarship and you tell the athlete to shut it down for five weeks when their season is only 15 weeks long.
Q7: What do you think will change about the specialty in the future?
A: In the future, sports medicine, in our profession will have some changes, mostly in different modalities of treatment. Shockwave therapy will be the constant in many offices and it will be affordable for many patients. I believe technological changes will also be seen in how orthotics are made and in examination of gait.
Q8: What portion of your practice would you estimate is this specialty?
A: Probably 40%, but it’s hard to quantify. I mean if someone comes in with heel pain and they’re a jogger, is that considered sports medicine or not? I don’t know. It’s hard to make that designation, I mean they consider themselves an athlete and they run two miles twice a week. I mean to delineate if it’s 30% or 40% or 50%, it’s hard. I mean, I do have a certain amount of athletes who come in from high school, college, or professional teams who are obviously athletes, but I don’t believe you want to center your entire practice around just sports medicine. You want to make yourself accessible, especially from the beginning, to everybody. Patients will get the word, and friends tell their friends. Also, if you’re around these events I mentioned earlier, people will come to you for treatment. Being involved in the right organizations, working on the sidelines at events, and things of that nature. It seems real trivial, but in the beginning, that’s how you get your name out.
Q9: What are some things you would change about this specialty?
A: It would be nice if there would be more of an open forum for doctors. This forum would give the opportunities to see what treatments work and what fail. It’s best for new doctors to read journals, clinical trials, and learn what is important and what is effective. However, you should always be cautious of any new treatments. Like anything, the test of time will show if certain surgeries or treatments are effective. A good example is the cartiva implant, which at one point, was very common and many doctors jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately after two years, many of these implants have to be taken out, and the patients are stuck with a fusion.
Q10: What advice do you have for students or residents interested in your specialty?
A: Learn as much as you can. Surround yourself with people who are involved in sports. Participate in sports. Learn from trainers – they have a lot of information, and they’re really going to be your conduit so you can get onto a junior college or high school team. And make yourself very accessible in the beginning; if someone calls you up late at night or there’s an event early Sunday morning, you go and try to be a sponge. Accessibility is very important. Be gracious to other specialties because you’re going to learn a lot from them: chiropractors, trainers, orthopedic surgeons. Everyone, whatever their specialty is, has got some pearls, and you should be open to learning from them. We all don’t have all the information – I certainly don’t. I think if you’re open and you listen it makes you a better practitioner. Just utilize all the different specialties. Everyone’s going to have a different way of treating things, and eventually you’ll find what fits in your hands and what you’re comfortable with. Even with 31 years of practice, you’ll always be learning. When you stop learning, you stop living.
by Salem Lebada
School: Western University School of Podiatric Medicine
Special Edition, Surgery, Interview
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