Meet Dr. Nanci Levine, One Impressive Woman

During a rare moment of relaxation in late February, Dr. Nanci Levine reclined in a hammock in Costa Rica and contemplated semi-retirement as Associate Director of the Labor Floor at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Decades as an OBGYN specializing in high-risk pregnancies had an intensity she relished, but the unpredictable schedule, ten-hour days and a relentless battle for resources were getting to her. The plan was to set a less punishing schedule and pursue some pet projects.

“I struggle a lot with balance,” she says with the rapid-fire delivery of an anxious middle-schooler. “My brain is too busy, too full of chatter.”

But a week later, New York City was on the brink of lockdown and Levine had 12 hours to pull together an emergency strategy for a coming tsunami of Covid-19 patients. Montefiore Medical Center treats the poorest, sickest and highest-risk population in the city, so Levine knew Covid-19 would hit hard.

“It was terrifying,” she says, shaking her head. “Driving into the hospital felt like driving into a war zone.” There was no protective equipment, no masks, no solid knowledge of how the virus was transmitted and no known treatments. She pleaded for masks and gowns through Nextdoor. com and was amazed at the neighborhood response. Rain ponchos, latex gloves and N-95s appeared in her mailbox. Neighbors made cloth hats and masks from elegant Liberty of London fabrics. Donated lunches fed the exhausted hospital staff, a gesture that went viral and supplied hundreds of healthcare workers with meals during the height of the pandemic.

“People who didn’t have to respond stepped up,” says Levine. “There were episodes of kindness and camaraderie that I cannot describe to you.”

Levine originally studied philosophy in college, but her father was a physician, and her mother’s mantra was female financial independence, so she went to the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and opted for the immediacy of obstetrics. “There is a lot of psychology,” she says, “but there’s also a lot of happiness, and it’s full of problems that you solve and make go away.”

She met Jeff, her husband-to-be, in medical school and discovered a shared passion for altruism. They traveled together to South America as part of their training, and Levine, who is fluent in Spanish, later went to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Peru to educate local medical personnel about OBGYN care.

The couple married in 1991, had two sons, Jared and Jonah, and moved to Palisades in 2004. Levine settled into an obstetrics practice in Westchester and Jeff specialized in cardiac anesthesiology. Eventually Levine was driving to the Bronx at 5:15 am, working out at a local gym at 6:30, clocking in at Montefiore at 7:30 for a ten-hour shift that often included at least one emergency C-section and driving home via the Upper West Side for an evening Ashtanga yoga class.

“I know I’m in my sixties, but I don’t feel it,” says Levine with an impish smile. “I have more energy than most people in their forties.”

Levine describes her colleagues at Montefiore as a wildly diverse group of “very smart people without attitude.” She’s energized by her ability to help her patients, predominantly Bengali, Black, Yemeni and Latino women with little or no English, through the intensity of labor and delivery. “Up until recently it’s been a lot of fun,” she says, “there’s a lot of laughter on a labor floor.”

But this September Levine will finally implement her version of cutting back. She’ll reduce her hours at Montefiore and give webinars for several women-centric health organizations including a start-up called The Cusp, a holistic menopause treatment group she’s thrilled to be part of. She’ll take long walks to the pier with Marley, the family Goldendoodle, and carve out more time for her rigorous yoga practice.

When our interview-while-walking ends, Levine hops into her car and zips home for a Zoom meeting with friends from several different continents. There will be no quiet retirement. There will simply be a redirection of Levine’s boundless energy towards helping women take care of themselves.