What’s Up, Doc? 20 Questions for Dr. Rick Cooper: Long-time Educator, Pediatrician and Leader of the Janeway

On August 9, 2016, the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre will celebrate its 50th birthday! For 43 of those 50 years, Dr. Rick Cooper has been a practising pediatrician of the Janeway, caring for sick children from across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Rick Cooper, pediatrician at the Janeway for 43 years

Dr. Rick Cooper, pediatrician at the Janeway for 43 years

In 1969 at the age of 26, Dr. Cooper completed his residency in pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, followed by finishing his Infectious Disease Fellowship at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1973. Completing his fellowship in 1974 at the age of 30, Dr. Cooper decided to return to Newfoundland and Labrador. It was shortly thereafter that he joined the faculty of Memorial University of Newfoundland as a teaching physician and became a practising pediatrician at the Janeway.

“I started my career in pediatrics at the old Janeway Hospital, which at that time, was located at the former Pepperrell Air Force Base hospital in Pleasantville in St. John’s,” said Dr. Cooper. “Some of my proudest, greatest challenges and fondest memories come from there and what is known today as the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.”

Front, left: Dr. Rick Cooper teaching neonatal medicine in his younger years. Source: Memorial University Gazette, Sept. 17, 1976

Front, left: Dr. Rick Cooper teaching neonatal medicine in his younger years. Source: Memorial University Gazette, Sept. 17, 1976

The old Janeway Hospital first opened its doors in 1966. The hospital was named after American pediatrician, Dr. Charles Alderson Janeway, who was a great advocate for instituting a children’s health-care facility in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Since its inception, the Janeway has played a key role as a teaching hospital in the province, serving as the training ground for new generations of leaders in pediatrics.

“I was very fortunate to have taught the first ever infectious disease course at the MUN medical school in 1974,” Dr. Cooper said. To this day, after 43 years of practice, Dr. Cooper continues to teach infectious diseases microbiology and general pediatrics to students, residents and his colleagues.

The “Old Janeway Hospital” located in the former Pepperrell Air Force Base hospital, Pleasantville, St. John’s

The “Old Janeway Hospital” located in the former Pepperrell Air Force Base hospital, Pleasantville, St. John’s

Besides having research interests in infectious diseases, Dr. Cooper has been very active clinically in several areas of pediatrics, including general pediatrics, neonatology, child protection, oncology and child development. For almost 30 years of his career, Dr. Cooper was a visiting pediatrician consultant at the Carbonear General Hospital, providing care to children from more rural areas. With his knowledge in child health, combined with decades of practising experience, Dr. Cooper has been, and continues to be a major influencer and mentor to those around him.

“I can honestly say that the Janeway has not only been a cornerstone in my career, but it has also been a significant establishment in our province since the beginning of its time,” added Dr. Cooper. “The Janeway represents a half-century of health-care professionals providing compassion, commitment, hope and promise to children and their families Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Over many years, Dr. Cooper has volunteered his time in the community with the Family Life Bureau of the Roman Catholic Archdioceses and the MUN Botanical Garden. Dr. Cooper has been married to his wife, Grace, for over 47 years and have five children together, two of whom have followed their father’s footsteps of becoming physicians.

Dr. Rick Cooper enjoying woodworking as his hobby

Dr. Rick Cooper enjoying woodworking as his hobby

“In addition to my career in pediatrics, authoring a book and my eight grandchildren keep me quite busy,” grinned Dr. Cooper. With any other time that he has left to spare, Dr. Cooper enjoys many of his favourite hobbies, including woodworking, gardening and spending time at his country cabin. But that’s not all we know about Dr. Cooper … read more below!

1. What is your full name, and where were you born?
“My full name is Dr. Austin Richard Cooper. I was born and bred in St. John’s, and my birthdate is June 25, 1942. I was named after my father Austin and my great-grandfather, Richard.

2. What did you get in trouble for the most as a child?
“As a student in school, I used to get in trouble for being a ‘day dreamer’ and for not listening to adults.”

3. When did you realize your call to be a medical doctor?
“I had this realization when I was only 15 years old, and at that time, some of those who were close to me thought that it was an impossible dream! Imagine that.”

4. Why the Janeway for so long?
“I have always loved working with children and their parents, and I loved teaching medical students. But it was in 1990 and onward when I became involved with various leadership initiatives at the Janeway and at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Medical School where I had opportunities to help make changes. It was then when I felt I had the best of three worlds – one as a practising physician; two as an educator; and three as a leader.”

5. Who was the most influential person in your life/career?
“I was lucky to have had quite a few great influencers in my life. The most influential person from a medical perspective was Dr. Rudy Ozere, who encouraged me to train in infectious diseases. Then there were two Christian Brothers, Brother Kean and Brother Darcy, who helped me academically throughout my late high school years. Third, I was fortunate to have awesome parents! Last but not least, I wouldn’t have done many of the things I did without my lovely wife, Grace. I have to give her a lot of credit and say that overall, she was and still remains my greatest asset.”

6. When did you start teaching in pediatrics, and why did you follow that path?
“I started teaching in pediatrics as soon as I started my residency training in 1969. However, when I came back to Newfoundland and Labrador in January 1974, I organized and taught a course in infectious diseases, where I taught students and residents by the bedside, and became a clerkship coordinator of the senior medical students.”

7. Why did you become a pediatrician?
“Well, as a medical student, I originally wanted to be a surgeon and not a pediatrician. It was the Chief of Surgery in Halifax who suggested that I finish my surgery rotation as an intern first. Following the advice given to me, I completed my rotation and although I did well and was given a good evaluation, I told my family that I couldn’t see myself in surgery for the rest of my life. Because I like children and pediatricians were in great demand, I decided to begin my career in pediatrics at Dalhousie University in 1969 by becoming a resident in pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

8. What was your most memorable day as a medical doctor?
“My most memorable day as a medical doctor was when I attended the graduation of my two daughters who were also in medical school. I attended my other children’s graduations as well, but that was as a parent, and not as a pediatrician and Chair of Pediatrics at the Medical School. Those were all very great moments for me.”

9. What was the hardest lesson you have learned as a physician?
“Listen to what people are trying to tell you.”

10. You are a busy man. What do you do in your spare time?
“In my spare time, I like to socialize with my family and friends, do lots of walking, repair old furniture, make new furniture, do gardening and collect firewood for our wood stove.”

11. If you can have a “do-over,” what would it be?
“I would have liked to spend more time with my family, especially my children.”

12. If you can travel back in time over the last 50 years, what year would you pick and why?
“Without a doubt, I would travel back to 1969 – this was the year when I graduated and got married!”

13. In your work, what is one golden rule you live by?
“The day has not ended until the job is done. See all your patients, dictate or write notes and answer phone calls before the sun sets. The day may never end!”

14. Throughout your career, what’s the best advice you have given someone?
“If you don’t love what you are doing in medicine, get out and do something else.”

15. If you could invent one thing, what would it be?
“I would invent a drug that targets cancer cells and has no serious side effects on patients.”

16. With the evolution of medicine and technology over the last 50 years, what has been the most life changing for you as a physician?
“Oh there has been many, but the most life changing technological advance was the cell phone because it gave me the freedom when I was on call to go places. I was on call for something or other a lot of the time!”

17. What’s the best part of your work?
“The favourite part of my work is meeting children and their parents, and being told that the treatment I gave really made a difference in their lives. That is so rewarding!”

18. On the flip side of that, what do you find most challenging as a physician?
“The most challenging and heartbreaking part of my job is witnessing child neglect at times – those that do not give children the love, attention and respect that they require and deserve.”

19. Do you have any special talents?
“I think my special talents would be the real ability to communicate with people – even with the challenging individuals and being able to listen to their stories. Another ‘talent’ I have is to really appreciate everyone for the great work they do, and to never forget the two most important words – thank you. That makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

20. If you can make one wish, what would it be?
“I wish to finish writing my book, The History of the Janeway, before I leave this earth. This has been my labour of love – I have been working on the book for the past six years, and I would love to see it be published soon.” ■

This story was written by Zelda Burt, a communications manager with Eastern Health.

10 responses to “What’s Up, Doc? 20 Questions for Dr. Rick Cooper: Long-time Educator, Pediatrician and Leader of the Janeway

  1. Worked with Dr. Rick both at the Janeway and St. Clare’s! Always enjoyed watching him and assisting wherever I was able. Wonder if he still hums opera?

  2. I thank God each and every day for people like Dr. Rick Cooper. Without his dedication to his profession my family would look a lot different than it does today. Dr. Cooper we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

  3. Dr. Cooper cared for us as children and for our children. Couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Makes me proud to call him Uncle Rick. Yes, he is actually my uncle…and he is very good at that too. Congratulations Rick. You were caring and awesome then and still today. Can’t wait to read your book. Colleen.

  4. Dr Cooper is an amazing man he’s dedicated devoted and an a extremely kind man and he tells you like it is …I seen him as a child, my kids seen him ,and my grandson seen him 3 generations ..one Doctor. .Thank you Dr Rick always remember you made a difference in my life my kids and grandson you have a beautiful heart. ..Looking forward to seeing you soon you made an impact on many lives …if i was adjwd who the best Dr there ever was ,, I would have to say Dr Cooper. ..looking forward to reading your book The History of the Janeway. ..

  5. I worked at the Special Care Nursery in the old Janeway from 1981 to 1994 and fondly remember Dr. Cooper as a kind, sweet man, so soft spoken and competent. He was also present in the delivery room at the Grace in 1991 when I had my son who was 3 weeks premature. He came and spoke to my husband and I after and told us our son was a healthy boy and he was very reassuring! Best wishes, Dr. Cooper!

  6. As an ER nurse at the Janeway CHC in Pleasantville, I was fortunate to work with Dr.Cooper for nearly 10 years. He was always wonderful with patients, families and colleagues: a respected physician, educator and a gentleman. Thank you Dr. Cooper for all that you have done and continue to do for healthcare in our province.

  7. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr
    Cooper while attending an appointment with my granddaughter. It was such a pleasure to have met him and he was a true blessing in the beginning of her care. Such a kind and gentle person. You can feel the love for his work and the love for people just in a meeting.
    His career choice was a gift for us and I am certain it has been for many others.
    We are so happy you have not retired yet and I am happy that others have had the gift of your guidance and expertise.
    Thank you Dr. Cooper.

  8. My baby who is now 40 yrs old and DR. Cooper all those years ago, literally saved his life, he was just a God send for all my family at that terrible time, but we haven’t forgotten the total dedication, I was a new mom at that time, scared and afraid I was going to lose my baby, but 40 years later he is healthy, happy and a dad with 2 beautiful babies of his own, thanks DR RICK.

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