Thomas G. Cooney, MD, MACP, on spending time with patients and building strong relationships

Thomas G. Cooney, MD, MACP


Thomas G. Cooney, MD, MACP
Internist, Professor of Medicine at the Oregon Health and Sciences University and staff physician at the Portland VA Medical Center.

Georgetown University

Portland, OR

1. I was born and raised in… Stratford, CT, on Long Island Sound, the youngest of 3 children. Our mom was a huge influence in our lives, giving up her own career to work in the home. Our dad was among the legions who commuted daily by train into New York City where he worked for General Electric. Unlike now, Connecticut was then a manufacturing state, with numerous well-paying union jobs, many filled by veterans of World War 2.

2. As a child I was… fortunate to live in a community where we could largely roam freely and explore the giant salt marshes, river and seashore that surrounded us, securing my fascination for and love of the natural world. I also loved to read and devoured books from our town library.

3. I decided to be a doctor… when I stopped growing and realized I would never play guard for the NY Knicks. I also considered being a wildlife photographer and backcountry ranger, before deciding later in college that medicine would be the best balance of science and working with people.

4. The persons who influenced me the most… early in my life include my mom; my sophomore H.S. Latin/English/Geometry teacher, Fr. Edward Welch, S.J.; and my college anthropology professor, Nathan Altshuler Ph.D. And so many more people since then, perhaps most notably being Dr. Walt McDonald, ACP EVP Emeritus, who was years before my first ‘boss' after training.


5. I chose internal medicine because… I loved the intellectual rigor of the specialty, yet it was a specialty that was so firmly grounded in the patient-physician relationship. The best of both worlds. Interestingly, I had started my internal medicine training with intent to double board in internal medicine and dermatology but discovered that I loved the breadth of general internal medicine and teaching it during my Chief Residency year.

6. What I find most rewarding about my career… are the relationships. Relationships with patients, their families, students, residents, colleagues…

7. I joined ACP… as a resident, initially to obtain the Annals, but then, during my Chief Residency, attended an ACP Scientific meeting in San Francisco and realized that ACP was my professional home, which it has been ever since. The shared commitment to excellence and doing what was best for patients was just palpable and inspiring and continues to be so to this day.

8. An award or achievement I am proud of is… being awarded Mastership in ACP, which was both completely unexpected and immensely gratifying.

9. My advice to medical students is… to learn from your patients: spend as much time at the bedside hearing their stories and developing your bedside skills.


10. I like people who… remain optimistic and who can adapt positively to the challenges that inevitably arise in life. As I am known to say, “the one thing we can count on is change”.

11. My family includes… my wife Barbara, our daughter Maura and her daughter Audra, and our son Mark. Barbara is a retired Speech Language Pathologist, who worked with children in a neighboring school district. Maura is sort of my ‘boss': she is Director of Operations for our School of Medicine. And our son is a software engineer in SoCal.

12. My interests/hobbies are… cooking, reading and all things outdoors, particularly cycling and hiking/backpacking. I have zero musical talent (thanks, Dad) but love listening to almost all genre.

13. If I had the time, I would like to learn… to be a better baker.

14. I enjoy listening to… podcasts and music.

15. I enjoy watching… live theater, movie dramas and documentaries.

16. My idea of a great vacation is… either a multi-day backpacking trip (High Sierras) or trips to new places, domestic or foreign.

17. Some things others may not know about me are… I cooked in an Italian/seafood restaurant (summer weekends) during college; I also worked for Remington Arms at the skeet and trap facility they owned near my home. I learned firearms safety and a deep respect for their potential lethality from Remington's professional staff.

18. If I could be anything other than a physician… I would be a backcountry ranger.

19. A person I greatly admire is/was… Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the most extraordinary and influential figures in contemporary US history.

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