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Why does Adam Levine, M.D., wish to become Adam Levine, J.D.?

Dr. Adam Levine will graduate from Stetson law school in December. “From the time I was in a stroller,” he says, “there was never any question that I would be a doctor.”

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Dr. Adam Levine will graduate from Stetson law school in December. “From the time I was in a stroller,” he says, “there was never any question that I would be a doctor.”

So many questions about Adam Levine's decision to stop being a doctor and start being a lawyer: • Will he sue doctors? • Will he raise his hand if someone shouts, "Is there a doctor in the house?" • Will he — as he argues his cases before judge and jury — at last wear a pair of socks? • So many questions, especially the real mystery: Why does Adam Levine, M.D., wish to be Adam Levine, J.D.? • No one knows for sure. • Maybe not even him.

In December, the same month he turns 44, Levine will graduate from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. In February, he'll take the Bar exam and become an associate of the Z Law Group, a Tampa firm led by Jeffrey Zwirn. He already works there as a medical consultant. (The firm's Web site shows him in scrubs and a lab coat, waving a gavel.) Among other things, the Z Law Group specializes in personal injury and medical malpractice.

Levine has studied at Stetson for 3 1/2 years. Until a year ago, he continued to practice as an OB/GYN, delivering babies between studies. He even delivered the baby of a Stetson teaching assistant and saw her in class three days later. He did all of it by extending his day from 5:30 a.m. to midnight. He divided it into 15-minute blocks. He can read a book in two hours.

Studying is one thing Levine is really good at.

He was a phenomenon in the 1980s at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. As a lowly biology undergrad, he steeped himself in research into human reproduction, publishing his own papers. His first, in 1985, was titled The Separation of Human Spermatozoa into X- and Y- Chromosome Bearing Fractions.

Barry Bean, a professor of cell biology at Lehigh, became his lifelong mentor. He considered the kid brilliant. Levine was never one of the crowd. All his ideas were his own. "I never directed his work; he was on the task himself. He also had what we call 'good hands at the trench.' Great scientists are like that."

Some professors didn't know what to think of Levine. He talked fast, seemed authoritative on any subject. He never wore socks, even in the deepest throes of Pennsylvania winters.

"He'd walk in the snow that way," Bean said. "One of my colleagues just couldn't handle that."

Bean found the quirks funny, even endearing. He and Levine published a paper together titled New Views of the Phosphate-Containing Compounds of Semen.

Bean urged his protege to pursue a Ph.D. and continue in research. Levine said he was headed to medical school. Bean called it a great tragedy.

Three years ago, Levine let his mentor know he wanted to be a lawyer.

Law school, Bean told him, would be his second great tragedy.

By any measure besides Bean's, medical school looked like a triumph. Levine stood out at Albany Medical College in New York, winning a $4,000 National Institutes of Health award for a paper titled Characterization of Monoclonal Antibodies Directed Against the Mouse Egg Plasma Membrane.

After Albany, Levine completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina. And after South Carolina, he won a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He would not just practice obstetrics/gynecology. He would practice in vitro fertilization.

Levine's ambition at the time was to practice "academic medicine." He saw himself teaching and doctoring, one foot in the ivory tower, the other in a hospital. It didn't work out.

"There were no such jobs available in 1998. The only one I found was in South Dakota."

Instead, he came to Tampa to birth babies. He did that until now.

• • •

"From the time I was in a stroller," Levine says, "there was never any question that I would be a doctor."

His father, Stephen Levine, labored as a pediatrician in New York for 47 years. He and wife Carole paid for their son's medical training, all the way through. (They have refused to pay for law school.) They're now retired in Delray Beach.

Adam waited for dinner with his father and mother to drop the bomb about law school. He's a wine collector. He waited until Mom and Dad were into the third bottle.

Dad's first reaction: "What next? Engineering school?"

He tried to get his son to explain why.

"Adam gave me a funny answer. He said he didn't want to turn 50 and still be on call. I was on call every third night for 47 years. But I don't believe that's his real motive."

Adam was always hard to figure out. He was the family's only Republican. His mother used to say they took the wrong baby home.

Like the professors, Stephen Levine was baffled over his son's hangup with socks. He hadn't worn them since elementary school.

"When he graduated from medical school, we were so proud we bought him a car. We also bought him a dozen pairs of socks, and we hid the car keys in one of the pairs. He totally ignored the sock box.

"I finally had to say, 'Schmuck, open up the socks.' "

To this day, those socks are still in the box. "They're argyles," Levine said, frowning.

Professor Bean, Levine's mentor at Lehigh, has heard many medical doctors complain of burnout. Levine himself was temporarily dragged into two malpractice suits several years ago when patients who weren't his sued the entire firm he worked for.

"It's hard to practice medicine creatively," Bean said. "You've got to be a tough businessman, you've got to follow the rules. You practice for the money."

But he's not convinced that's why Levine is quitting. It could be his intellectual restlessness, or the challenge of starting a new career. It could be ego.

Or, Bean said, it could be that Levine believes he can make a bigger impact on medicine from the outside.

"I can see him combining medicine and law in a good way. I can see him suing the bastards who hurt rather than heal."

• • •

Levine lists various reasons for swapping medicine for law: He doesn't want to be on call anymore. He thinks he can make a bigger difference on the system as an outsider. He says all those things, but none with great passion. Levine also says he plans to "sit on my a--" for a while after graduation, but that doesn't sound convincing either.

Levine gets passionate when he describes how he learned, how he hated sleep, how he woke at 5:30 a.m. and stayed up till midnight, how he read law books on the treadmill, how he turned his car into an office, solving problems on his way to Stetson, how he squeezed in surgeries, which he still loved doing, how he couldn't waste one 15-minute block in his day.

How he even scheduled a block or two for "fun."

At Stetson, he also continued to write papers. One is titled A False Sense of Security: Instead of Limiting Medical Malpractice Liability, Pre-Treatment Mandatory Arbitration Agreements Most Likely Increase Physician Risk.

He talks about how law required a different way of thinking, how he learned to use his brain in a new way, and how he discovered why doctors and lawyers so often misunderstand each other.

Medicine is exactness.

Law is interpretation.

Remember President Bill Clinton, arguing the meaning of the word "is"?

So will Barrister Levine sue doctors? Will he ever practice medicine again? Will he raise his hand one day if someone cries out, "Is there a doctor in the house?"

Levine is wearing a beautiful blue pinstripe suit. He has crossed one leg over his knee, showing off a new pair of dark blue socks.

"I'll give you a legal answer," he says, smiling.

"It depends."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2258.

Why does Adam Levine, M.D., wish to become Adam Levine, J.D.? 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 3:31am]

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