The trees and snow-capped mountains created a breathtaking view. The aqua blue river was so pristine that a mirror-like image of the nearby surroundings projected perfectly onto it. The setting truly exemplified natural beauty and peace.
This was summertime along the Rocky Mountains in the Canadian province of Alberta. Radiologist Barry McCook, MD, was on an ever-memorable excursion with his family. The primary reason was for fly fishing, an activity that’s become his and his son’s favorite hobby.
McCook, associate professor and chair of radiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, speaks with enthusiasm about these outdoor adventures as well as other personal interests such as Southern rock ‘n’ roll. But when it comes to his profession, the passion is even greater.
McCook’s love for radiology, along with his desire to continuously learn and improve, has served him well throughout a successful career as a practitioner, instructor and researcher. As faculty and staff prepare to serve patients at the all-new UF Health North, he looks forward to his department’s growth and its advanced capabilities in the world of imaging.
Finding his passion
McCook admits he initially frowned at the idea of going into radiology. While in medical school, his chief interest was obstetrics and gynecology. But a medical rotation in radiology changed all of that. McCook recalls it was his instructor – Irving Hawkins, MD, a professor of interventional radiology at UF in Gainesville – who helped make the discipline exciting to learn and practice. Though the contact is brief, McCook realized the patient interactions are quite meaningful.
“That rotation was one of the most motivating months for me. After that experience, I knew I wanted to go into radiology. I never looked back on that decision,” said McCook, who was also influenced by his brother, the first of the siblings to become a radiologist.
After medical school and further training, McCook practiced radiology in the private sector in Jacksonville. Though he found joy and challenge in the profession, he began to miss academia. He eventually joined the staff at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pitt Med) as an assistant professor.
While at Pitt Med, McCook played a key role in the development of the PET-CT scanner, which uses positron emission tomography and x-ray computed tomography capabilities to create more-precise images of metabolic and biochemical activity.
McCook was one of two radiologists who interpreted images as part of the NIH-funded study that led to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center becoming the first entity to use PET-CT scan for clinical evaluations. Now the technology is used at hundreds of medical centers around the world.
“It has revolutionized the care of cancer patients,” said McCook, who specializes in diagnostic and nuclear radiology. “This technology looks at the anatomy and function of tumor cells. It allows us to closely follow patients through their entire treatment process, including the way they respond to therapy.”
Because radiology is so technology-based, the field continuously changes. McCook said he stays abreast on the latest developments by attending national meetings, reading trade journals and regularly communicating with colleagues.
“The technology is always new,” he said. “You have to constantly keep up with the advancements.”
Imaging at UF Health
After 10 years at Pitt Med, McCook accepted the opportunity to move back to his hometown and direct the diagnostic radiology residency program at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. Three years later, in 2011, McCook became department chair. Since that time, the department has hired nearly 10 new faculty members, some of whom are past graduates of the program.
“It speaks highly of the department that they want to come back to work with us,” McCook said.
The faculty today represent a host of subspecialties such as cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and pediatric imaging, among other divisions. These subspecialists will work at UF Health North on a rotating schedule, with McCook appearing there in a supervisory and administrative capacity. Equipment on the new campus includes a high field-strength open MRI, PET-CT machine, a SPECT/CT machine and a 128-slice CT scanner, as well as state-of-the-art breast-imaging equipment with tomosynthesis. And thanks to the department’s PACS imaging system, McCook and others will be able to read UF Health North scans remotely from the main campus on 8th Street.
“We’re ready and we’re excited. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” McCook said.
“Dr. McCook is a tremendous leader of UF radiology who, with his faculty, is bringing first-class equipment and highly specialized services to North Jacksonville for the first time,” said Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD, dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “Medical imaging is a key component of modern health care and our radiology faculty are among the very best in the Southeast.”
McCook’s personal side
When he’s not busy guiding the radiology program, McCook enjoys delving into a few personal hobbies. A few times a month, he and his son go fishing, usually for trout or red fish along the Intracoastal Waterway. The duo, who sometimes compete in fishing tournaments, primarily treat the activity as a time for father-son bonding.
That sport has also been the focal point of a few long-distance family vacations. One such getaway was an excursion to the town of Banff in Alberta, Canada. McCook loves to reflect on the breathtaking views of the snow-capped Canadian Rockies while they fished along the ever-clear Bow River. The sounds of nature took precedence over the hustle and bustle of city life miles away.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” he said. “The scenery is gorgeous up there.”
Then there’s McCook’s artistic side. McCook is a huge fan of Southern rock and country music and has developed a penchant for the classical guitar. He looks forward to practicing every day.
“I needed something to zone out to when I get home. The guitar has been a real release for me,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Though he’s been plucking strings more frequently lately and has personal, old-neighborhood ties to members of famed rock bands 38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd, McCook doesn’t see himself launching a second career as a guitarist. His work in radiology keeps him quite busy, satisfied and happy, and UF Health remains happy to have him.
Emeritus Associate Professor