Island profile: Dr. John Cosgrove, now a full-time Islander

REBECA SCHILLER PHOTO | The doctors are in. Dr. John M. Cosgrove and Dr. Patricia Barry, outside their New York Avenue home.

Dr. John M. Cosgrove, Eastern Long Island Hospital’s first full-time surgeon, has made the Island his full-time residence, and the change is just what the doctor ordered.

Visitors welcomed into the Cosgrove’s New York Avenue home are offered a tour of the late 18th century house. Up the narrow stairs are three bedrooms; one is for his in-laws, a sunny room with French doors that open to a balcony with a grand view of the Heights. Next to that room is a recently remodeled bathroom, which John, 56, proudly noted was designed by his wife, Dr. Patricia Barry, a radiologist at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. Down the hall he pointed out the other two bedrooms and another bathroom designed to accommodate his three grown children.

The two physicians discovered Shelter Island when their children were part of a sailing team at Port Washington Yacht Club near their home in Manhasset and they would come for the regattas. During a two-day sailing event their youngest son was participating in, John and Patricia decided to spend the night at the Chequit Inn. The next day, while John stayed on to watch the regatta, Patricia went to her post at St. Francis and realized it was an easy commute to work.

“We had such a great time here at the Chequit, and what’s not to like?” she said. “It’s a beautiful Island. You get away from the hustle and bustle. My parents say that it reminds them of Staten Island — the original Staten Island — how it used to be before they had the bridge to Brooklyn. It’s peaceful. You can relax here.”

John is a Jersey kid originally, brought up in Englewood and Demarest. He met Patricia when they were both med students at New York Medical College.

Only one of their children, Susan, 27, has followed the family trade. She’s an anesthesiology resident at Columbia University Medical Center. John Jr., 28, is a Harvard graduate now working at Riverstone, a Manhattan-based private investment firm, and 22-year-old Patrick is a New York University student.

After several years of renting summer places on the South Fork, going as far east as Montauk, the couple decided it was time for their family’s own vacation house. It didn’t take long to settle on the Island as the place they wanted to be. John met with realtor Fannie Quigley of Griffing & Collins Real Estate. “She had a few homes planned to show me, and I think this was the second,” he said. “Because my wife likes the location, it was near the ferry, there’s a couple of stores here and we didn’t want to be in total wilderness, I said, ‘This is it.’”

The couple agreed they had found the perfect house, closing in January 2004, and for nearly 10 years they’ve been coming to the Island summers and weekends, driving out from Manhasset.

But in late August, the New York Avenue vacation home became John and Patricia’s full-time residence after he accepted the position of general surgeon at ELIH. Previously he had served as chairman of Surgery and Residency Program director for Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Although the move to the Island was primarily to be close to John’s work, the doctors wasted no time becoming full-fledged members of the community. They are parishioners at Our Lady of the Isle, which is an important anchor for the couple. John, a late-night reader, recently joined the library’s book club. Other activities include attending Greenport High School football games — John is passionate about sporting events — and gardening.

“We like dirt,” Patricia said simply.  “We like to dig in dirt.”

But with his new position at ELIH the majority of John’s time is spent with his patients. He is on call every other night for post-op care, which he notes takes more time than the actual surgery. His primary goal is to build up general surgery at ELIH, but also return to the day-to-day direct patient care part of his practice.

In a certain way, because this area is primarily rural, John notes he has become a country surgeon who attends to all aspects of his patients’ medical care from beginning to end.

Before, in his academic practice, there was extensive back up, with many surgical residents and staff who did a lot of work, such as consultations, keeping an eye on ordering prescriptions, everything in fact, including personally seeing patients when they have a bit of a temperature. At Albert Einstein, he was only called in for more serious turns of events. “Here I’m the first line,” John said.

With the new position, he was faced with a professional question that took some working out. Never doubting his role as a surgeon, the other responsibilities in some ways were harder work for him and, initially, he wondered if he was up for it.

“I think the answer is ‘yes,’” John said. “I really enjoy this and it’s bringing out something in me that I’m the first line and the second line and the third line.

Although we have other people we can call on, there are only two surgeons at ELIH. You really feel your impact on the community. You feel needed.”
John credits Patricia for her support and understanding for the change of direction in his career path.

Returning to a discussion of his work at ELIH, he said, “I think that community hospitals can provide better care than the big city hospitals because there’s so much personalized care by the nursing [staff], the dieticians, by the X-ray people. It’s much more personal and all these people are part of the community.Everybody knows each other, and I think that translates into better care. My patients are getting excellent after-care here because of the staff.”

As satisfying as it has always been to come to the Island, now as a full-time resident John added that he feels renewed.

“I feel like I’ve had a rebirth,” he said.