Lara Cooke

Avenue Calgary’s 2009 Top 40 Under 40.

Job Title: Neurologist, Assistant Dean, Faculty of Development, University of Calgary

Age: 36

Lara Cooke had two defining experiences that brought her to where she is in her life.

The first happened when she was 13 and met Rick Hansen, when he passed through her hometown of Toronto during his “Man in Motion” tour. The wheelchair athlete, who was spinning around the world to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injuries, inspired her to become a neurologist.

“I used to think that blood was gross,” says Cooke. “But Hansen was a compelling speaker. I was inspired by how he dealt with his spinal cord injury.”

Cooke moved to Calgary from Toronto for medical school in the 1990s, both because of the University of Calgary’s reputation and because she wanted to be close to the mountains. “I thought it would be a great place to live,” she says. “And it is.”

When Cooke was a neurology resident, she had her second defining moment: she was publicly berated by a physician. That humiliating experience made her realize doctors aren’t always good teachers and she wanted to change that.

Her 15 years of post-secondary education gave Cooke insight into just how medicine was being taught. “There are so many gifted teachers,” says Cooke, “but a few just eat you for breakfast.”

When she was offered a job teaching the teachers, she jumped at it and, judging from her U of C teaching awards, including the Keith Brownell Neurology Teaching Award for teaching residents, it’s something she’s good at. Since then, Cooke has designed and implemented the U of C’s Teaching Scholars in Medicine Certificate Program for doctors who want to make teaching medicine a major part of their careers.

But her work doesn’t stop there. Cooke spends a day a week working at Calgary’s headache clinic treating migraine sufferers.

“It’s mostly women in the clinic at the Foothills Hospital and you get to see them on an ongoing basis, working with nurses and social workers to help them,” says Cooke. “Headaches often affect their lives in many ways; depression is common; they get great care at the clinic.”

As if this weren’t enough, Cook also recently took on a teaching role with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, she runs a neurology clinic at the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) and she organizes an annual conference on Teaching the Art of Medicine. Plus, she just had a new baby.

Despite all of these commitments, Cooke says she enjoys the downtime she does get.

“I like quiet time,” she says. “I guess I just don’t like to be told that I can’t do something.”

Why she’s the top: Not only is she a practicing neurologist, she’s educating the next generation of physicians, and even teaching their teachers how to be better teachers. Because of that, Cooke will have an influence on many future generations of Calgary doctors.

The key to her success: Cooke is a powerful multitasker. She juggles more than a half-dozen distinct roles in her work life, from treating migraine sufferers to teaching communication skills to physicians.

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