Chat With Haute MD Leaders, Episode 3: Dr. Brian Levine

Dr. Brian LevinePhoto Credit: Shutterstock

As Haute Beauty continues its “Chat with Haute MD Leaders” series, Haute Media Group Cofounder Seth Semilof hosted a discussion with Dr. Brian Levine, a representative of the Haute Beauty Network in the New York market.

The interview fostered discussions surrounding Dr. Levine's journey into the fertility realm of medicine, his progress in bringing a Denver-based clinic to New York, and the tips he learned to be successful.

A New York native, Dr. Levine grew up on Long Island before heading to undergraduate school at Cornell University and then New York City to initially pursue a career as a geneticist. But starting his Ph.D. graduate program made Levine realize he wanted to go down a different path. He spent a year working at NYU as a researcher before getting accepted into the medical school. After, he completed his residency at Columbia University and delved into opening his shared practice in New York. 

Here are some of the questions and answers from the exclusive interview with Dr. Levine:

Seth Semilof: At medical school, did you know that you wanted to get into the fertility category?

Dr. Brian Levine: For the first day, I thought I was going to be an EMT and focus on helping people there. But it was on the second day of medical school that I heard a lecture about the genetic testing of embryos, and that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. You see, I started graduate school interested in genetics, and I dropped out of that program because, to me, the clinical utility was so low. But then I learned in medical school that you can actually use genetics every single day in a clinical setting. I learned about the fertility world during our introduction to ethics and about the ethical conundrums associated with creating embryos and testing them. The world of reproductive endocrinology infertility or fertility doctors is pretty small. The reason is that you need to do four years of medical school, four years of residency, and then three years of fellowship, and then fellowship programs, which are pretty competitive so there are only around 35 to 40 spots a year nationwide.

SS: After you finished your fellowship, what did you do?

DBL: As I was in fellowship, I started to realize that, in the fertility world, patients don’t have the luxury of time. I learned that the way to improve the outcomes for patients involved using technology and science, and the fastest moving science and technology were in these private practices. So I came right out of training in 2015 and started my own job. Knowing that the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) was arguably one of the best in the country, I reached out to them and pitched a way to bring their clinic to New York, which fosters the most competitive IDF market in America. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and I felt I had nothing to lose and only to gain. It was well-received, and that first phone call led to a second phone call, and it led to a trip to Denver to see the science, and then to a meeting with people who were interested in doing what I was doing. 

SS: As you were meeting with them, were you nervous that they weren’t going to select you because you were so young?

DBL: 100% because I was a complete unknown. My wife and I used to joke all the time, which is ‘what test do I have to take to prove that I can do this?’ Because the truth is, you don’t know anyone’s value until you actually get them into practice. Until someone’s actually sitting in front of a patient, you don’t actually know what kind of doctor they’re going to be because, for all of our training, you’re seeing someone else’s patient. But I said, “look, we can build a clinic in New York, and we can do this together, but I can’t do this alone, so let’s build a team.” And from the beginning, I focused on the team approach and reached out to people that I really liked and respected throughout my training and career. And the four of us came together to build an equal partnership, which is actually a really nice model when you’re starting from ground zero. 

SS: How did you learn everything from building an office to ordering the right equipment, I mean, how does someone like you  — who practices medicine and is at a top-level of education — able to execute this so well?

DBL: You bring up my biggest issue with medical schools in America: There’s no training on the finances of running a business or practice or even billing. There’s no transparency whatsoever in medical school, residency, or fellowship on how doctors get paid and how you actually pay your employees. Thankfully, we have a teacher as a partner, and they’ve done this before and been able to guide us as much as they could. But a lot of trial and error happened, I mean, I went to 43 buildings until we found the right building to be at. 

We started very small and targeted a very small patient population. I think that’s a very real, important lesson for many people who are looking to start their own practices, at first. Always start small and be very careful of how much you want to grow in those first few months or years.

SS: What was the kicker to get to where you started becoming really successful?

DBL: I’ll never forget, it was June 2016 and I showed up at 7:30 a.m. (at his office), and there was nobody here. We did some soft opening stuff ahead of time, and I had already been featured in a bunch of different publications — doing my own media to help build buzz — so I had some patients who were already scheduled for appointments. But I remember sitting here at 7:30 and thinking, the first patient isn’t here until 10 a.m. so what am I supposed to do? But then came that first patient, then came a second patient, and what I learned was the most powerful referral source is word of mouth. One month later, I had five patients that day. Three months later, it got to 12 patients. The rest is history. 

SS: Who was a mentor that you had while studying or getting into the business that you look at today that really had an impact on your success?

DBL: I love that you use the word mentor because that’s what all this is. The reason we call it ‘practicing medicine’ because it is an apprenticeship, and you have to learn from someone. So, I’ve had multiple mentors throughout my career. James Grifo, who runs the NYU program, he’s the guy who gave the lecture on the second day of medical school that changed my life. To this day, I still reach out to him, you know we went for ramen last week. Truth be told, he’s apparent to me and was even at my own wedding. At Cornell, that’s where I was fortunate because I gained a whole bunch of mentors. Along the way, these individuals were unbelievable mentors and allies throughout the whole field and throughout my development. I love mentoring people, and I’d love to figure out how I could teach and how I could do more and reach out more. 

SS: Why are you unique and different from the majority of fertility clinics in New York? How important is it to visit someone with your expertise?

DBL: I might be the face, but it’s not me. It’s the team. At CCM New York, we have an unbelievable team. There are 80 plus individuals here, from laboratory technicians to embryologists to the other three partners I have here. Everyone in between, including the amazing nurses and anesthesia team, I think what we can do here is that we are nimble and humble — we can treat patients and don’t just put people in boxes and say “you’re 43 years old so you need this treatment” or “oh you want to freeze your eggs so you have to do it this way.” No, we figure out who the patient is and we give what I really believe is bespoke treatment. We give the patient the treatment that they need, not even the treatment that they want or what we want, but we do what’s necessary for the patient. We never rest on our laurels as every single day we’re improving. We’re reading our reviews from our patients both good and bad. We’re encouraging feedback from patients. Then, we’re looking at our data from our laboratory and figuring out where we can innovate and move the needle to improve outcomes

Dr. Brian Levine is an exclusive member of the Haute MD Network representing the New York market. For more information, visit Dr. Levine's Instagram or Facebook! Watch the interview below:

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