Family Physician Practices with Eastern Philosophy

A family medicine physician who took a different path since he was a teenager. Ed Levitan, MD, also practices Shiatsu, Japanese bodywork, energy medicine and acupuncture.

When Ed Levitan, MD, opened Visions Medical Center, a functional health care practice in Wellesley, Mass., in 2008, it marked the fulfillment of a life-long dream. It was also a career move that Levitan had shunned, in some respects, since he was a child.

“I wanted to be a physician for two reasons,” Levitan recalls. “My grandmother was a physician, and she was the matriarch of the family and was highly respected. That made me want to be like her. But I also didn’t want to be like my other family members, who were entrepreneurs.” Levitan pauses as he laughs. “That’s a little strange now, since I am an entrepreneur.”

The reason why Levitan is “doing the things I didn’t want to do, but eventually they became want I want to do” is because he’s doing them in a different setting. “I’m not doing this for the sake of money.”

An early awareness

Now Levitan is a family medicine physician who also practices Shiatsu, Japanese bodywork, energy medicine and acupuncture.

As an adolescent, Levitan became interested in Eastern philosophy. By the time he entered college and took up martial arts, he was already thinking differently — Eastern thoughts, he calls them — about how the body works. He was clearly on a different path.

“It was a completely different mindset compared to how we normally do things in Western medicine,” Levitan says. “And the thing that really clinched it for me was I had a two-year break between college and medical school. I learned Japanese body work while I was doing research full time at Dana Farber. I learned acupuncture; I learned about Shamanic medicine. And that really started me on that journey.”

It was a journey that almost derailed at Boston University Medical School. The dean told Levitan that at no time during his tenure would there ever be alternative medicine at the medical school.

“Boston University is an extremely conservative school; at least when I was there,” he says.

Fortunately, Levitan did his residency at Brown University where he was mentored by Glenn Rothfeld, MD, in functional medicine.

“Since I already had a strong background in the Eastern way of thinking, I picked it up relatively quickly,” Levitan says.

A balanced blend

The Visions community and its practitioners work together to help patients achieve wholeness in health. As Levitan explains, he still continues — “and will always continue” — to practice allopathic medicine.

“If I ever get into an accident, if I have a heart attack, anything like that, I’m going to the hospital,” Levitan says. “No questions, no stops. It’s the place to be. There’s no better place.”

But for a chronically ill patient where medication is oftentimes warranted, medication and a traditional approach may not be enough.

“In allopathic medicine we don’t have a lot of time for our patients,” Levitan says. “We don’t have time to talk about lifestyles, about diets, about sugar and how that’s inflammatory. We don’t have time to look at what a person eats, what they put in their mouth, and how they put it in their mouth — like heating or microwaving in plastic. We have to slow down, talk, analyze about chemistry, and go back 10, 20, or 30 years. What were the stressors? What were the key events in the person’s life that led to the start of a disease, and how did that disease progress? And slowly, over six to 24 months, start regressing that disease. That’s the profound part of functional medicine that allopathic medicine can’t provide.”

Receptive patients

Levitan’s patients appreciate his approach. He spends one hour with first-time patients; the first 30 minutes listening to the patient, and another 20 minutes or so talking to the patient about philosophy — why he’s outlining a particular treatment regimen.

“One of the fun things about functional medicine is that I always talk to people about trading partnerships,” Levitan explains. “Equal partnerships. And the equal partnerships are 99% them, 1% me. I’m not there when they eat, sleep, move or breathe in their daily life. Their health is their own; always was and always will be. I’m there to guide them. I’m there to give them the best advice that I possible can. But ultimately, they have to do the work.”

Levitan says that physicians often take a lot of the power away from their patients. The focus at Visions, however, is empowering patients to listen to their body. He often tells patients, “I don’t know everything. I need you to help me.” And when they start doing that — when they start listening to their body — they no longer make unhealthy decisions.

Walking the walk

Levitan is passionate about making a difference in the lives of his patients, but he’s also just as committed to keeping himself in good health. He holds a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and has been practicing Qigong — the art of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation — for the past 15 years. He spends time outdoors at least four days a week — regardless of the weather.

“It’s a very personal practice,” Levitan says. “It’s my way to connect with nature. I can’t stare at a person’s face and tell them to exercise and eat well and do everything else unless I’m doing it. This is my way of staying healthy.”

Meanwhile, word of the work that Levitan and his colleagues do at Visions continues to spread throughout the community. That’s the part of his work that Levitan finds most rewarding.

“Not only do I do work that makes a huge difference on the one-to-one basis, but that work is spreading and will continue to spread,” Levitan says. “And that’s our mission: to educate physicians so they can continue this work.”