Dr. Robert Cooper leaves his Red Deer practice with fond memories

Retirement has come later than usual, but 80-year-old Dr. Robert Cooper, who graduated from medical school in 1957, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Retirement has come later than usual, but 80-year-old Dr. Robert Cooper, who graduated from medical school in 1957, wouldn’t have it any other way.

After spending many years at the Associate Medical Clinic on 48th Avenue in Red Deer, he spent February wrapping up his practice and referring care of his many patients to other doctors.

“There are a lot of patients who I have been looking after for a long time and it is very difficult for me to say, ‘I’m not practising anymore,’ ” said Cooper, who reminisced recently about his 53-year career as a physician.

“I’ve probably had to say half a dozen times in the last month, when I’m sitting with my patient, ‘You better get out of my office right now or soon we will both be bawling,’ ” he said with slight melancholy.

Cooper started his practice in Assiniboia, Sask., south of Moose Jaw.

In 1964, he and his wife Anne and their three children moved to Red Deer. At that time Cooper became a coroner, now called a medical examiner. Red Deer had about 18,000 people and Cooper was the 18th doctor — currently Red Deer has more than 300 doctors.

“Leaving a small-town practice in Saskatchewan to come to Red Deer was something we never regretted one minute,” Cooper said.

“I have patients that I have looked after since I have been in Red Deer.”

“I’ve delivered them, delivered their grandchildren and in some cases their great-grandchildren,” said Cooper, who also fondly counts his eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren on his fingers.

“Hard to keep them all straight,” he smiles coyly.

Cooper’s practice started in an old bank on Gaetz Avenue and then moved to a building near the Presbyterian Church.

The clinic now has 18 full-time family practitioners.

Not only have there been changes with the clinic, there are differences in family medicine itself, Cooper said.

A self-subscribed “computer illiterate”— who had to have his hand-written notes scanned into the clinic’s computer system — nods at the Mac computer on his desk as if it were a delinquent child.

He also said the concept of family medicine has been reformed and leans more commonly towards walk-in practice.

“It saddens me to see the tremendous amount of changes towards medical care in the province,” said Cooper, who has also been the chief of staff at the Red Deer Regional Hospital, the president of the Alberta Medical Association and a member of the Canadian Medical Protective Association.

He said he has noticed a general attitude that there should be multiple accessible walk-in centres.

But he believes this type of clinic doesn’t offer continuity of care.

“To me, if you rush through 50 people in a day you’re going to see some damn sick people. What we are doing is sitting, visiting, talking with the patients and you get the story and know what you’re doing with these patients,” he explained.

Cooper also said there have been changes with medicine when it comes to politics. When he first came to Red Deer, a hospital board handled budgets, mill rate and decided where to use government grants. But the regionalized system took authority away from boards and many small hospitals were closed, he said.

“Then they said we need to make fewer but larger regions and now they are going down again. They are buggering around with how medicine should be run and if politics stayed the hell out of it, then I think the system would work a lot of better.”

Cooper managed to juggle medicine with a long list of other interests, including a lifelong fascination with education. He was elected twice to the public school board but left his school board seat before his term was up after then-Advanced Education Minister James Foster convinced him to be the chair of the Red Deer College board.

Cooper was also involved with the local hospice and had a hand in founding Crime Stoppers — the easiest thing he has ever had to raise money for, he quipped.

“It went over like a damn, people were quite supportive of it,” Cooper said.

Cooper is unwavering when he says the best thing about being a doctor was the “people.”

“I get more out of looking after sick people than they get from me looking after them. I didn’t realize it until I came to the point when I said, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore.’

“I’m not the smartest physician in the world but I think we have done a good job and I am happy about that.”