Member of the Month: Ron Cook, DO, MBA
Family medicine educator encourages lifelong learning and involvement in advocacy for specialty, patients
By Kate Alfano
Ron Cook, DO, MBA, is a professor in the Department of Medical Education for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. He serves as the Braddock Chair for the Department of Family and Community Medicine and medical director of the City of Lubbock Health Department clinic. He is also the health authority for the city of Lubbock and has been a central leader and public figure during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his wife of 37 years have two sons and two wonderful daughters-in-law. A hot air balloon and outdoors enthusiast, Cook was drawn to medicine at a young age and found inspiration for teaching from his parents.
Who or what inspired you to become a physician?
I’m not quite sure when my interest in medicine began, but I think it was sometime in fourth grade that I was asked to draw a picture of an individual in the profession that I thought I wanted to be. I wanted to be a doctor!
Can you describe your career path?
From fourth grade on, I was fairly focused on becoming a physician. I loved the sciences and anything about bugs and animals. My first merit badge in Scouting was first aid and I spent summer breaks in high school lifeguarding. As a high school senior, I got a job working in the emergency room as an orderly and the summer after high school, I took a basic EMT course. My first year in college was at Odessa College. I then transferred to Texas Tech as a pre-med major. A few months later I was a certified paramedic and flight medic for the first aeromedical transport in Lubbock. I got a little side-tracked having fun being a flight medic, so I went to graduate school to improve my grades and earned a master’s degree in microbiology (parasitology; yes, tapeworms!). I was accepted into Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1989 and graduated in 1993. We returned to Lubbock and I completed my family medicine residency at Texas Tech and stayed on as faculty when I graduated. Over time, I have been the residency director for 10 years and now chair of Family Medicine for 10 years.
What drew you to teaching?
Both of my parents were schoolteachers, so I guess it rubbed off on me. In graduate school I began to really love teaching, leading labs in freshman biology and parasitology. Some of the most fun was showing non-science majors all the interesting things in biology. I had the opportunity to join the faculty upon graduation from residency, and I have never looked back nor ever had second thoughts. The human body continues to fascinate me, and I really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm with medical students and residents.
How has the pandemic affected your patients and your community?
Just as any physician has experienced, we have had some devastating losses in our practices and in our community. We have experienced pain and suffering with those who lost loved ones and we have experienced both anger and confusion with the individuals who did not or do not believe this is a real disease.
What public health lessons should we learn from this experience?
As the health authority for the city of Lubbock, I have seen our community come together in some amazing ways to tackle insurmountable feats. I have seen silos broken down and watched groups come together and find solutions that could not have been accomplished prior to the pandemic. There are so many examples of ingenuity and creativity to create new ways of manufacturing many things like face masks and how to clean and sterilize all sorts of PPE. Businesses came together to create ways to keep their businesses open providing much needed supplies to families. It was truly amazing!
What brings you joy in your work?
I am so blessed to go to work every day at a place that continues to be my dream job. I work with amazing people who love their job, too! How fun is that!?
Why do you choose to be involved in organized medicine?
Early on I didn’t understand the importance of organized medicine. I thought legislation just happened because someone else did it. Naïve, I know, but as time went along it became more evident. We need to make sure that physicians have a voice in legislation. If we don’t help mold and influence those decisions, someone else will. Working through the politics of this COVID pandemic made it clear that we, as physicians, are the best people to direct healthcare legislation!
What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?
I love being outside, whether it is water sports, triathlons or just being in the mountains. My wife and I have been part of a hot air balloon crew for many years! Our crew has been together for many years. The New Mexico Balloon Fiesta is just around the corner in October; get your tickets now. They are a hot item because last year it was postponed!
What advice would you give to students or your fellow colleagues?
Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new, and say yes more than no!
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at email@example.com or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.