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Dr. Alexis Colvin of Icahn School of Medicine: “Being in the operating room is one of the best parts of my workweek”

As a surgeon, being in the operating room is one of the best parts of my workweek. I will spend a few hours each week reviewing my cases prior to being in surgery — planning out my steps and thinking through any alternative steps — so I am completely prepared. In the operating room, it’s just me and my […]

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As a surgeon, being in the operating room is one of the best parts of my workweek. I will spend a few hours each week reviewing my cases prior to being in surgery — planning out my steps and thinking through any alternative steps — so I am completely prepared. In the operating room, it’s just me and my surgical team working together to fix a patient’s injury. No emails or texts or phone calls to interrupt — just complete focus on putting stitches in a torn tendon or constructing a new ligament or repairing a broken bone.


Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Alexis Colvin.

An accomplished physician and surgeon, Dr. Alexis Colvin is the modern version of the so-called “triple threat” in academic medicine. She is a Professor of orthopedic surgery as well as the Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. An expert in the field of sports medicine, she also serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the US Open and as the team physician for the US Billie Jean King Cup team.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am the oldest of three children. My parents immigrated to the US for higher education. They both worked while we were growing up and were my first role models showing that it is possible to put your family first and still have a successful career. They are now quite content in their role as grandparents and I feel fortunate that my own three boys have been able to develop close relationships with them.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

As a sophomore at Princeton University, I applied to an early admission program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The premise of the program (originally called the Humanities and Medicine program, but now called FlexMed) is that by encouraging students with a diverse range of interests and educational backgrounds to enter medicine, we can better serve the needs of patients and society. As part of the program, I was exposed to orthopedics while still in college. I explored other specialties early in medical school, but knew relatively early that I wanted to pursue a surgical specialty.

I love being an orthopedic surgeon, and in particular a sports medicine specialist, because the relationship that I have with each and every one of my patients is centered on the common goal of returning to an activity that they love to do — whether that be as a professional athlete or a construction worker or a weekend warrior.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

The first line of your question is really an important point — none of us can do it alone. There are so many people who have helped me during my career that it is really difficult to single out just one. However, there are two orthopedic surgeons who have significantly influenced my career. The first is Dr. Evan Flatow, who is an internationally recognized shoulder surgeon as well as the current president of Mount Sinai West hospital in NYC. When I was still in college, I wrote to a number of doctors about shadowing opportunities. Coincidentally, I was starting medical school at Mount Sinai at the same time he was starting there as a professor in the orthopedic surgery department. I started working with him pretty much as soon as I got there! In fact, he later hired me back to my first (and same) job since finishing my training.

The second person who has significantly influenced my career is Dr. Freddie Fu who is one of the pioneers of ACL surgery as well as the chairman of the orthopedics department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The training to become an orthopedic surgeon starts with four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of orthopedic surgery residency, and an optional additional year of fellowship. Pittsburgh has a wealth of sports at both the professional, collegiate and amateur level and the fellowship gives you experience with all of it. As a sports medicine fellow, I not only learned how to manage sports injuries from a medical perspective but more importantly I learned that it truly takes a multidisciplinary approach. The athletic trainers, the physical therapists, the coaches, the sports psychologists, the athlete’s family — we all have to work together to help an athlete recover from an injury.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As an undergraduate at Princeton University, I was fortunate to have the psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann as a professor. His book “Thinking Fast and Slow” is incredibly fascinating and thought provoking. It has really made me reevaluate how I make judgements and decisions. I am actually re-reading it for the third time and still learning new things! I highly recommend it for any person in a position of making critical decisions.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Becoming is better than being.” — Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck’s research on the growth mindset resonates with me on so many levels. As an orthopedic surgeon, I help take care of my patients’ physical injuries but their outlook on their recovery also plays a large role. I think it’s important for them to understand that their situation is not fixed and that recovery is a process and not a singular event.

On a personal level, I am continually trying to evolve and challenge myself whether it be physically, professionally or sometimes both!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am truly fortunate to have a career where I get to use different skill sets and tackle different challenges on a daily basis.

As a physician and surgeon, I am grateful to be able to make an impact daily on people’s lives. For instance, one of the most common injuries that I treat is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear. The scenario is usually that someone comes to my office with a painful and swollen knee after injuring it during a sport such as soccer. I examine her knee, review her imaging (such as x-rays and an MRI), and then we discuss the surgical procedure in detail. I perform the surgery and then continue to follow her recovery as she gradually returns back to activity and sports. It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to use my hands to help restore a patient’s function and quality of life.

On a broader scale, I also believe that it is important to continue to study what we are doing in medicine and improve upon it. I am particularly interested in advancing our knowledge in sports medicine by either preventing injuries in the first place or improving recovery once injuries do happen.

I also have a dual role at Mount Sinai as the Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs. The main focus of my role is to strength the relationship between current students and alumni. We all “stand on the shoulders of giants” and it is a true gift for students to get to interact and develop relationships with these giants! Furthermore, the alums really enjoy getting to know the next generation of leaders in science and medicine. It is an invaluable symbiotic relationship.

In addition to my roles at the hospital and medical school, I also have two roles with the United States Tennis Association. In one role, I serve as the team physician for the US Billie Jean King (formerly Fed) Cup team. The team members vary but are usually the top 4 or 5 professional US female tennis players along with the team captain and support staff. I have travelled the globe with my “Fed Cup family” — an inspirational and incredible group of women (and a few men).

Finally, I am also the Chief Medical Officer for the US Open. Certainly one of the highlights of this role was successfully hosting the US Open in 2020, which was the first major sporting event in NYC since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. It was incredibly gratifying as a physician in NYC, which had previously been the epicenter of the pandemic, to make progress towards normalcy several months later and help put on an international sporting event.

In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

As a sports medicine physician, I see daily in my office that mental wellness is intimately tied to physical wellness. Research has also shown the positive effect that activity and exercise can have on mental well-being and, on a personal level, I know the importance of this for myself and my patients. This is one of the reasons that I love what I do as an orthopedic surgeon — restoring someone’s ability to walk and play and to be active also helps to restore their overall mental well-being.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

As a sports medicine specialist, I believe that it’s important to “practice what I preach”. Not just because of the health benefits, but also because I enjoy being active! I have lived in NYC for almost 25 years and really love being able to walk (or take public transportation) anywhere that I need to go. I get restless if I am stationary for too long.

The three habits that work for me for physical wellness include 1) having a goal 2) having a system for accountability and 3) not dwelling on missed opportunities and instead looking forward — guidelines that are also applicable to other facets of life!

As an example, in 2019, I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon which was taking place in Arlington, Virginia at the end of October (point #1). (Obviously, the physical goal that you set doesn’t have to be a marathon!)

I had previously run the New York City marathon 16 years earlier with variable training and without the added responsibilities of several jobs and three kids! I had to be extremely disciplined this time around — there were many Saturdays where I was up at 5am (or earlier) just to get my miles in before the rest of my family was awake. But I also tried not to be too hard on myself when I had to skip a training day if, for example, I was running late in the operating room (point #3). For my longest training run (20+ miles), I enlisted a friend who has run the NYC marathon nearly 25 times to run with me knowing that it would help to have the accountability not to mention the conversation and his knowledge of all the water fountains on the route (point #2)!

On the actual marathon day, there were torrential rains for pretty much the entire race. I was completely soaked within the first ten minutes and my sneakers became wet sponges! However, the exhilarating feeling that I had when I crossed the finish line after completing a race in conditions like that is one that I will not soon forget.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

As a physician, I have seen firsthand how developing healthy eating habits (especially in relation to weight loss) is very individualized. The patients who I have seen successfully develop healthier eating habits typically fall into one of several categories. They either a) have a strong motivating factor such as wanting to lose weight to be able to get rid of their knee pain, b) have a system that holds them accountable such as a group or an app and/or c) are very specific in their dietary plans such as eliminating red meat from their diet.

As a working mother, I absolutely know how tempting it is to get prepared foods. I love to cook (I have a slight weakness for kitchen gadgets) but am often short on time once I get home from work and there are three active boys who are hungry. So I do spend time each week meal planning — especially for recipes that don’t take a lot of preparation and with leftovers that can be repurposed.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

As with mental wellness, exercise (or activity) is critical to emotional wellness. This is true not just for me personally, but research has also shown that physical activity is correlated with both improved mental and emotional wellness.

Having a purpose is also important for emotional wellness. I wear many different hats and I truly enjoy the challenges that each and every role brings.

Finally, investing time into relationships, especially with my family, helps to keep life in perspective!

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

As a surgeon, being in the operating room is one of the best parts of my workweek. I will spend a few hours each week reviewing my cases prior to being in surgery — planning out my steps and thinking through any alternative steps — so I am completely prepared. In the operating room, it’s just me and my surgical team working together to fix a patient’s injury. No emails or texts or phone calls to interrupt — just complete focus on putting stitches in a torn tendon or constructing a new ligament or repairing a broken bone.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to meet with Bill Gates primarily to discuss his book list. He has had a number of really good recommendations that I have enjoyed reading. But to be completely honest, for sheer fun I’m going to have to say Dwayne Johnson (and yes, my husband and boys would want to join too)!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am on Instagram @dralexiscolvin and LinkedIn, Alexis Colvin.

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