Leo Cooney, M.D. ’69, celebrated his 50th reunion with a new accolade to add to his already extensive list: one of two Distinguished Alumni Service Awards. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Dr. Cooney graduated cum laude from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts before attending Yale medical school. After graduation Cooney completed his residency at Boston City Hospital, where he was given the opportunity to accompany nurses to elderly care facilities and realized the need for geriatrics care in the United States. He credits the Yale System and his mentors, including Dr. Robert H. Gifford, for giving him the tools and motivation to pursue a specialty in geriatrics during a time when geriatrics programs did not exist.
In 1976 Gifford invited Cooney back to Yale to establish the medical school’s geriatrics program and an Acute Care for the Elderly unit. Cooney said that the hospital, school and department of medicine were very supportive of his efforts in both program development and teaching endeavors, and that the atmosphere at Yale has always been collegial rather than competitive. “Even though Yale is sort of seen as a research institution, it actually has been very good about promoting and supporting clinician educators. It’s a good place,” he said.
Cooney never planned on staying at Yale long-term, but he and his wife fell in love with New Haven. Now his four grandchildren live in New Canaan, and visit regularly. “I talk a lot to people who have been recruited and it’s sometimes a little difficult to recruit people to come to New Haven. But they don’t want to leave once they’re here, us included,” he said.
The highlight of his 43-year career? Teaching. “People really develop their practice patterns during residency,” he said. “So if you want to influence the way someone is going to practice medicine, the time to get them is during their residency or their fellowship.” In regards to his selection as an honoree during reunion weekend; “it’s nice, very nice,” he said. “I love it here.