The Path of a Specialist – Meet Dr Andrew Levien

In vet school, Dr. Levien was worried about becoming a surgeon, but he made the cut…Just Kidding.

Some people stumble through life, whereas others have a clear vision of who they are and what they want to become. The latter was the case for Dr. Andrew Levien.  Growing up around dogs and horses and spending large amounts of his spare time being a spectator at an equine specialist surgical facility was where it all started. When asked about the defining moment when he wanted to be a surgeon, his answer was “It was around age 15 years old, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian and a surgeon. As time went on I realised that small animal surgery was a broader field (in terms of surgical diseases) and so I switched from equine to small animals in my final year of veterinary school”.

Whilst studying to be a veterinarian, Andrew was already setting the bar high by being granted 7 different awards before graduating with his BVSc (Hons). Since then, he found himself travelling to London for a rotating internship at the Royal Veterinary Collage from 2009-2010, then a surgical Internship at Louisiana State University from 2010-2011, a surgical residency at Animal Medical Centre in Manhattan NY from 2011-2014, was a staff surgeon at Veterinary Surgical Centers in Washington DC from 2014-2016 and is now the proud Director of Veterinary Specialists of Sydney. Within this time he has also found the time to publish several journal articles and present at a handful of conferences.

Spending a large amount of his career overseas, we asked Dr. Levien what he missed the most about being away. “The first 6 months you seem to miss everything about Australia.  As time goes on, I begin to love being away and embracing all that is different about living in a foreign country. Aside from friends and family, the thing that I missed the most about Australia was our lovely white sand beaches and moderate climate. The warm winters and pleasant Sydney summers are a treat compared to New York and London!”.

Fair enough! We are glad the unwelcoming winters brought him back to Aus and VetPrac is certain that vets here can benefit from his knowledge and expertise.  For those that wish to further their education or specialise in surgery, Andrew has some great advice for you: “Have a plan, but be flexible in where you would be prepared to work.  Consider international opportunities. Be prepared to work hard, study hard and write publications. It is a demanding time of your life, but well worth it”!  Also, for all the general practitioners doing the day to day surgeries, remember “you don’t know what you don’t know! Read widely, learn from experienced vets, be logical, and take your time. Like sports, practice makes perfect”.

Although his expertise covers all spectrums of surgery in small animals, Andrew has a soft spot for knees and elbows!  We were very curious what he enjoyed most about these joints and we couldn’t help but love the response…”Knee surgery: That TPLO is brilliant…!  It is an ingenious versatile solution to a complex problem. Transforming a “tripod” pet to a “sound pet” in a few weeks, to an “athlete” in a matter of months is quite amazing.   Elbows: I really enjoy arthroscopic removal of fragmented medial coronoid processes…there is a satisfaction in not only removing the fragments, but in performing minimally invasive surgeries and seeing the pet being able to walk on their limb the same day!”.

Spoken like a true specialist and mentor- or dare I say superhero…

To gain a little bit more insight into who Dr. Andrew Levine really is, we asked him some random questions.

Dr. Levine, if you could have any superhero power in the world, what would it be and why?

“To fly- it would be an amazing feeling to experience life like a bird!  I envy those birds (not the plovers)”!

What is the smallest patient you have performed surgery on? What about the largest?

“I repaired a femur fracture (with butterfly fragment) in a rat (went great!). Sad to say, that the largest is probably on a horse or a cow.”

Who is the most influential person in your life?

“There have been a couple of role model surgeons in my life that I have aspired to be… my friend and mentor Dr. Bill Liska from the USA is a close surgeon friend that I look up to. He is most well known for performing the most number of total hip replacements in the world (over 2000!) and I was fortunate that he taught me how to do them! Now I am, sadly addicted to hip replacements also… it’s super satisfying surgery to do in dogs as small as Yorkies, to those as large as Mastiffs!”

Even though Dr. Levien has already achieved so much, he has lots of ideas for further research projects.  Also, he is currently working by bringing high-quality, affordable surgery to general practices through his new mobile surgical company – Veterinary Specialists of Sydney.  In the future Dr. Levien “would like to refine the way we perform cranial cruciate ligament surgery”- and there is no doubt that he’ll eventually achieve that as well.

How does he do it all and have a life as well? “Time management is key…find ways to simplify your life, perhaps by delegation or release or responsibility, so that you can have more time to do the “other things” you love doing! You may help animals, but don’t forget about helping yourself!”

Thank you, Dr. Andrew Levien, for giving us an insight into you and all you have accomplished.  Check out his business HERE and he is happy for the VetPrac community to contact him.  Better yet – meet him in person at that upcoming Stifle Surgery workshop later this year!

 Wrriten by Alena Felkai.